When the Philadelphia Phillies, at the outset of their wild winter of big spending and big trades, lavished $50 million across three years on outfielder Andrew McCutchen, many in the industry viewed it as a strange overpay — a stance confirmed when most of the remaining 30-something hitters on the market struggled to land deals.
The Phillies, though, saw McCutchen, the 2013 National League MVP, as a critical piece to their championship hopes — a leadoff hitter, left fielder and popular clubhouse figure who, above all, showed up to work every day. Even as his production dipped from his mid-20s peak, he was among the game’s most durable hitters, averaging 155 games per season beginning in 2010.
To understand why the loss of McCutchen for the rest of the 2019 season was so devastating for the Phillies on Tuesday — after an MRI confirmed a torn ACL in his left knee, suffered while trying to avoid a rundown the day before in San Diego — start with that everyday presence: While the Phillies, for a first-place team, already had plenty of problems, from the bullpen’s inconsistency to the rotation’s lack of depth to Bryce Harper’s strikeout issues, the one thing they never had to worry about was McCutchen.
Tuesday’s news came as the Phillies (33-27) were carrying a five-game losing streak into a game at San Diego, with their lead in the NL East, which stood at 3½ games less than a week ago, down to a half-game over the Atlanta Braves.
“It’s a sucky dynamic,” McCutchen told reporters Tuesday. “It’s not the news I wanted to hear.”
Reinforcements were already on the way, with rookie outfielder Adam Haseley, their 2017 first-round pick, called up from Class AAA on Tuesday, and recently acquired veteran Jay Bruce making his Phillies debut Monday. They will man center and left field, respectively. But the Phillies were already thin in the outfield, with regular center fielder Odubel Herrera on the restricted list following a domestic violence incident; McCutchen had been shifted from left to center to cover for him.
Throw in Harper’s well-chronicled struggles at the plate, and the Phillies’ outfield now looks like an unqualified mess — and Haseley and Bruce probably aren’t the full-time answers. The former has just 27 plate appearances above Class AA; the latter was supposed to have been a platoon/bench bat. For now, both will be pressed into more or less everyday duty.
“This is something every club goes through,” Manager Gabe Kapler said Monday, before the Phillies knew for certain they had lost McCutchen for the season. “Every club goes through tough times. They go through tough stretches. They have injury concerns. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We just have to come back fighting and prepare like we always do.”
But the Phillies have already invested too much in this season — their offseason splurge netting them not only McCutchen but also Harper and reliever David Robertson via free agency, and shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto in trades — to stand pat. And with still some eight weeks left until the July 31 trade deadline, it would surprise no one if they make another big move to plug their newest hole.
The Phillies might be able to find someone who can play center field. They may find someone who can capably man the leadoff spot. But they are unlikely to find another McCutchen, the least of the Phillies’ concerns until, suddenly, he was their biggest.