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Andrew McCutchen: ‘I understand what I’m capable of doing’ with Phillies

The general opinion was the Phillies overpaid for Andrew McCutchen. But his durability, leadership qualities and the potential for mashing were the prime reasons they were willing to spend $50 million for him.

Andrew McCutchen, center, balances his 1-year-old son, Steel, on his knee during an introductory press conference Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.
Andrew McCutchen, center, balances his 1-year-old son, Steel, on his knee during an introductory press conference Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

It was one of the most impressive at-bats that Gabe Kapler saw last season.

Andrew McCutchen came to the plate with the San Francisco Giants trailing by one run in the bottom of the 14th inning on April 7 at AT&T Park. Stuck in a 2-for-24 slump, he quickly fell into a two-strike count against Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Wilmer Font. But McCutchen fouled off seven of the next eight pitches, including four in a row, before finally turning on a 95 mph fastball and launching a three-run walkoff homer.

"It kind of demonstrated the hitter that he still can be," Kapler said.

And it was precisely the reason the Phillies took a three-year, $50 million gamble on McCutchen last week.

In his introductory news conference Tuesday, the 31-year-old outfielder acknowledged the recent drop-off from his MVP-caliber peak of 2012 through 2015 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But he still possesses strong on-base skills, 20-homer power, and the ability to grind down an opposing pitcher with long at-bats. And he believes strongly that playing his home games in a hitter-friendly ballpark will enable him to maximize his offensive output, a sentiment with which Phillies officials roundly agree.

“I haven’t played a full season in a hitter’s park. I’ve never done that before,” McCutchen said, balancing his 1-year-old son, Steel, on his knee and noting that he’s hit “my share of homers” (nine in 133 at-bats, to be exact) at Citizens Bank Park. “The majority of my career being in Pittsburgh, it’s fair. It’s not overly big or overly small. I did pretty well there. I played in one of the biggest ballparks in America in San Francisco [last season].

"So, yeah, to be here, I definitely think it’s going to be a plus for me and it’s going to help me just do what I’ve always done -- use the opposite side of the field, drive the ball that way and get rewarded for it.”

The Phillies rewarded McCutchen for something else: his durability.

Across baseball, the general reaction to the McCutchen signing was that the Phillies overpaid, an opinion that only grew stronger Monday night after fellow 31-year-old free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the Houston Astros. But the Phillies believe McCutchen has a better chance of staying on the field. He has played no fewer than 146 games in any season since 2010, averaging 155 games per year during that span. Brantley played 11 games in 2016 and 90 games in 2017 because of assorted injuries.

McCutchen said he has already spoken with Kapler about taking occasional days off to rest his body. But he also noted that right fielder Nick Markakis didn't miss a game for the Atlanta Braves last season.

"It's possible," McCutchen said with a smile.

Said Kapler: "If you go back many, many years, it is a very consistent 600-plus plate appearances. This is a very durable individual. This is a guy that, as long as he's healthy, as long as he's feeling strong he's going to go out and play for us every day."

The Phillies are taking a calculated risk that McCutchen will stay healthy. They looked at comparable outfielders over the years and decided McCutchen will hold up. Carlos Beltran played until he was 40, although he did have knee surgery at age 32. Torii Hunter stayed healthy and productive into his late-30s. Matt Kemp had a big year last season at age 33 after a two-year dip in performance.

"I'm just going to continue doing what I've been doing," McCutchen said of his conditioning. "I always say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'm going to train the way I've always trained, and I think with the longevity I've had in my career, I'm going to continue doing that."

The Phillies also valued McCutchen's leadership qualities. They had the youngest roster in baseball for most of last season, with slugger Rhys Hoskins emerging as the team's unofficial spokesman in only his first full major-league season. The Phillies believe there's value in adding McCutchen, once the face of the Pirates franchise.

Last week, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle invoked the slogan from an old commercial for a brokerage firm -- "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen" -- to describe McCutchen's impact on a clubhouse.

"I think it's just the experience factor," Hoskins said. "I think he and I are very similar in the way we like to lead. It's not necessarily going to be vocal all the time. I'm just excited to have conversations with him about that, to see how he's handled certain situations in the past and learn from his experience."

And experience tells McCutchen that he can remain a valuable player for the Phillies.

“There has been a decline, yes, but I do understand what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I definitely think this ballpark is going to help me in that aspect. But I know I can be better.”