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Orioles free agent target: Andrew McCutchen

The former MVP would provide leadership, speed, and modest production for an Orioles team looking to maintain a winning culture.

San Diego Padres v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The future is bright for the Orioles. Their roster is young, talented, and primed to continue their upward trajectory for several seasons to come. But the team still has its flaws, and one of the most glaring isn’t necessarily at a position or a number on a stat sheet, but in a role: veteran leadership.

There is no question that the Mike Elias-led front office sees value in adding experienced players to the roster, even if on-field production may be less than ideal. This was their entire free agent strategy a season ago with the trio of Jordan Lyles, Rougned Odor, and Robinson Chirinos. And while you can criticize the size of the role each of those players had in 2022, you cannot deny they improved the team, from a cultural perspective at least.

It’s unlikely any of those three return to Baltimore in 2023, and the same is true of a reunion with Trey Mancini. That leadership vacuum will need to be filled, and the process has begun with the addition of free agent pitcher Kyle Gibson. Others already in the organization should age and grow into that sort of figure in the clubhouse. But it’s not a bad idea for the decision-makers to install a powerful voice from the outside as well.

There may be no better fit for this role than Andrew McCutchen. The 36-year-old has 14 years of MLB experience under his belt. He is a former NL MVP, five-time all star, four-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove winner. During his career he has played for five different organizations, been to the playoffs several times, and won the World Baseball Classic with Team USA. But he is missing one thing on his resumé: a World Series ring. That combination of success and desire could be exactly what this young team needs.

Of course, while intangibles are nice, the Orioles are at the point where they need production throughout their roster. An Odor-like figure that is a chemistry boost but an on-field drag isn’t going to cut in moving forward. So, how has McCutchen looked lately?

The veteran outfielder played in 134 games for the Brewers in 2022, 82 as a DH, 49 in the outfield, and three as a pinch hitter, with just one brief IL stint in mid-May. His batting line was .237/.316/.384 with 17 home runs, 25 doubles, 57 walks, and 124 strikeouts. All things considered, not bad production, particularly for someone with the miles on him that McCutchen does.

His 9.8% walk rate a season ago is solid, but not nearly as good as the 14.1% mark he posted in 2021. What didn’t change was his refusal to chase pitches out of the strike zone. McCutchen’s 20.8% chase rate puts him in the 92nd percentile of all hitters, per Baseball Savant.

However, it wasn’t the most consistent season. From the start of the season through the end of May, McCutchen had an OPS of .575. But then he turned things around in a big way midseason, OPS’ing .830 with seven home runs, 32 strikeouts and 22 walks from June 1 through July 31. Unfortunately, he cratered a bit after that with a .198/.302/.366 line from August 1 through season’s end, maintaining some on-base and power skills, but striking out far more often (seven home runs, 25 walks, & 53 strikeouts in 48 games).

McCutchen has more to his game than just his bat. He spent time at all three outfield spots for the Brewers in 2022, with left field as his most frequent position. Over 268.1 innings (about 30 nine-inning games) he generated four defensive runs saved and two outs above average as a left fielder. His numbers were worse in center and right, but not to a catastrophic degree.

Something else that’s intriguing about McCutchen is that he has remained an under-the-radar speedster on the base paths. It’s not often that a player gets faster with age, but that’s exactly what McCutchen has done each of the last three seasons, which coincide with a recovery from a torn ACL in 2019. His top sprint speed of 28.9 feet per second in 2022 was tied for his highest in the Statcast era since 2016, his age-29 season. That puts him in the 90th percentile of all runners.

That speed hasn’t helped McCutchen steal more often, though. He was just 8-for-14 on stolen base attempts last season, and he hasn’t reached double digits in stolen bases since 2018. But the sprint speed alone is still helpful to beat out an infield single or grab an extra bag on a ball in the gap.

As the Orioles roster currently stands, there is not a clear spot on it for someone like McCutchen. But moves to open up a spot could be coming. One (or both) of Anthony Santander and Austin Hays appear likely to move this winter. While we would love to believe the O’s will sign a big name like Brandon Nimmo to bolster the outfield in that scenario, a stopgap seems more likely until Colton Cowser arrives sometime this summer.

The money won’t be huge either. McCutchen made $8.5 million for his lone season in Milwaukee. Something similar should be enough for a team to add the veteran this winter.

At this point in his career, McCutchen no longer boasts the big physical skills that saw him OPS over .900 for three straight seasons from 2012 through 2014 with the Pirates. He won’t compete for MVP votes. But those abilities have not completely eroded, and he now possesses experience and a track record that commands respect in a big league locker room. An addition like that could go a long way towards maintaining the sort of culture that the front office has prioritized while providing more production than the “vibes” crew from 2022.