Universal DH leads Cutch to Crew: 'This is a big add for us'

March 16th, 2022

PHOENIX -- At 35, Andrew McCutchen is no longer the perennial MVP candidate who gave the Brewers so much trouble when he wore a Pirates uniform a decade ago. But he still hits lefties and gets the job done in the outfield, and there was a place for a player like that on Milwaukee’s roster.

The Brewers on Wednesday signed a one-year deal with McCutchen, who's heading into his 14th Major League season. He’ll earn an $8.5 million base salary in 2022, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

“Now that I've done it a few times, it's kind of a surreal feeling,” McCutchen said upon joining his fourth team in the past five years, since the end of a decorated tenure with the Pirates which included five consecutive All-Star appearances, four Silver Slugger Awards and the 2013 National League MVP Award. “It's almost an uneasy feeling. Picture if you have kids and your kid is walking into a new school and not knowing anyone. Imagine that feeling. It's like a little kid walking into a new place for the first time.

“I'm excited. I'm nervous. I don't necessarily know what to think or how to feel at first, but once you get all those feelings out of the way, you start to settle in a little bit and it starts to feel good and it starts to feel right.”

The implementation of a universal designated hitter as part of baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement helped open at-bats in Milwaukee for a hitter like McCutchen, who could split time between DH and in an outfield mix that includes Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Hunter Renfroe and Tyrone Taylor. McCutchen started 131 games in left field for Philadelphia last season and could spell Yelich against certain left-handers.

“I think he's going to see time at DH. I think that's probably the primary spot where he's going to get plate appearances,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “And then I imagine there's also going to be times where we're using the corner outfield. The DH gives us some flexibility to add an additional offensive player. That's what we've done here. This probably isn't a clean fit without the designated hitter.”

Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “This is a big add for us.”

In his prime, McCutchen was one of the National League’s best all-around outfielders. He made the NL All-Star team in five straight seasons from 2011-15, and won four straight Silver Slugger Awards from 2012-15, while finishing in the top five in NL MVP Award balloting in each of those four years, winning the honor in ’13.

Since departing Pittsburgh after the 2017 season, McCutchen has played for the Giants, Yankees and Phillies. Last year with Philadelphia, he slashed .222/.334/.444 with 27 home runs and 80 RBIs.

McCutchen’s splits last season were lopsided. Against right-handed pitching, McCutchen slashed .186/.298/.352 in 379 plate appearances, but in 195 plate appearances against lefties, he slashed .293/.405/.622 with 15 homers. The Brewers believe some of that divergence was bad luck; they see hard-hit data suggesting McCutchen was better against righties than the surface numbers say.

McCutchen said he received little interest early in the offseason, but the phone started ringing when the lockout lifted with the universal DH in place.

“I’m good with it,” he said of that role. “You’ll see me in the outfield, running around and running balls down during batting practice just to keep going, keep moving around, keep my body in shape. That’s the plan and that’s what we’re going to go with. The mentality is always for me being out there, every day, on the field. Not saying I’m going against what Counsell is saying, just the mentality for me is going out there and being an everyday outfielder.”

McCutchen was the Brewers’ second free-agent addition of the week after the club re-signed reliever Brad Boxberger. Stearns said he was intent on adding a bullpen arm and a bat after the lockout lifted; now he will continue to shop.

One potential area to add? First base, where the Brewers have left-handed hitter Rowdy Tellez as the primary option and right-handed-hitting Keston Hiura bidding to bounce back from a bad year in 2021. In general, the Brewers are attempting to augment an offense that was 20th of 30 teams last season in OPS.

“I think we've gotten better,” Stearns said. “It's well-documented, we talked about it a lot, our offense lagged behind our run prevention last year. Especially at points early in the season, then late in the season again, we went through dry spells. And so, we tried to take some steps to address that this offseason.

“We know we're going to be a run prevention-oriented team. We're still built around our pitching staff, we're built around our defense. That's not going to change. But we also want to score a few more runs than we did last year, and we think some of the moves we've made will help us to do that.”