When Aaron Judge suffered a chip fracture in his right wrist July 26, the initial expectation was that he would only be away from the New York Yankees for a couple of weeks.
Well, it's been over a month and the slugging right fielder still isn't back. As much as anything, this explains why Andrew McCutchen is on his way to New York.
Not long after the Yankees blew a ninth-inning lead en route to a crushing 8-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers Thursday night, reports surfaced that the San Francisco Giants had agreed to trade McCutchen to the Yankees. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, two prospects are going to San Francisco:
McCutchen, the 2013 National League MVP, is going from a sub-.500 Giants team to an 84-50 Yankees club that's positioned for a wild-card berth. Because he was acquired ahead of the August 31 waiver trade deadline, he's eligible to stay with New York for the duration of its October ride.
For the Yankees, it's a solid baseball trade. Abiatal Avelino only checks in as their No. 23 prospect at MLB.com. And per Randy Miller of NJ.com, the $2.45 million left on McCutchen's contract shouldn't put the Yankees over the luxury-tax threshold.
Now that the basics are out of the way, it's on to the heart of the matter: This deal should spare the Yankees from a nightmare of their own making.
Originally, it was believed that Judge would need only three weeks of rest before he was able to swing a bat again. More than three weeks later, however, the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year still isn't close to swinging a bat again.
It doesn't need to be speculated that the Yankees erred in thinking Judge could make such a swift recovery. General manager Brian Cashman admitted as much to Sherman on August 20:
"[Yankees team doctor Chris] Ahmad was optimistic. He recognizes these things take four to six weeks, but for some reason his experience with Judge, [Ahmad] went the most optimistic three weeks. That was a mistake, one he has self-admitted to. In fairness to Aaron, four to six weeks is typical. Usually, we don't over-promise. In this case, we missed on the timeline. It is unfair to the player. The optimism and the timeline were inaccurate."
If there is something to speculate about, it's whether the Yankees ran with an aggressive timeline for Judge's recovery for the sake of convenience.
At the time he was hurt, they had already lost fellow slugger Gary Sanchez to a strained groin and young outfielder Clint Frazier to a concussion. According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, they adjusted their deadline priorities accordingly:
Under these circumstances, a conservative recovery timeline for Judge might have signaled a greater sense of desperation to potential trade partners, resulting in boosted price tags.
Had the Yankees' maneuvering worked, it would have been worth a tip of the ol' cap. Instead, nothing happened in the final days of July or through the first 30 days of August. And the Yankees paid for it.
Sure, they have a winning record (19-14) in the time Judge has been out. But their offense has gone from a .789 OPS with him to a .762 OPS without him, and the team's deficit to the Boston Red Sox in the AL East race has grown from 4.5 games to 8.5 games.
By not rushing to bring in help from outside the organization, the Yankees took a sense of urgency that should have been on their shoulders and transferred it onto Judge's. Thus, it's no wonder that he recently spoke about returning before he was 100 percent healthy.
"That's what I've heard, that I can play with it," the 26-year-old told reporters Tuesday. "I don't need surgery, I don't need anything like that. You can play with it before it fully heals. It's just getting that pain down to zero."
Maybe an early return would have worked. This is Aaron Judge, after all. He's a .284/.412/.595 hitter with 78 home runs over the last two seasons. Even a sub-100 percent version of him might have still proved to be elite.
However, it's just as likely that an early return would have resulted in calamity.
There would have been the risk of his wrist catching another wayward fastball like the one that hit him in July. Other forces (an awkward check swing, a hard headfirst slide, a diving catch attempt) could also have put his wrist in jeopardy.
Even if Judge avoided all of these, he might not have been up to being a savior anyway. He could have been held back by out-of-whack timing. Or, the 6'7", 282-pounder's wounded wrist could have rendered him unable to conjure his trademark power.
Now that McCutchen is coming to the rescue, there's no need for Judge to rush.
McCutchen isn't Judge's equal at this stage of his career, but he can still hit. He has a .772 OPS and 15 homers on the season, and a solid .794 OPS and six homers since the All-Star break.
If nothing else, McCutchen is a better option in right field than what the Yankees had been going with in place of Judge. While Giancarlo Stanton and Neil Walker have done their part to carry the load, Shane Robinson has done plenty to chip away at it. The Yankees rank 28th in right field offense since July 28.
Having McCutchen in right field should take care of that problem in the short term. Because of that, Judge can take more time to let his wrist heal. With enough luck, it will be good to go in time for the postseason. At that point, McCutchen would go from a solid everyday player to an enviable platoon option.
Of course, it's hard not to wonder where the Yankees would be right now if they'd traded for McCutchen sooner. They'd almost certainly be closer to the Red Sox in the AL East race. If so, their September would be less about saving face and more about seizing an opportunity.
Still, a trade made late is better than a trade not made at all. Rather than too little, too late, McCutchen to the Yankees is just enough, just in time.