Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/5/12

23 June 2009: Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) fields a fly ball during the Cleveland Indians 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo via Newscom

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If there was absolutely one move the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ownership had to make to give their fans some hope this seemingly endless rebuilding isn’t all for naught, this was it.

After an offseason of stalling and blackballing, the Pirates surprised everyone, christening Spring Training by locking up All-Star CF Andrew McCutchen with a 6-year, $51.5MM contract extension!  The deal buys out McCutchen’s…

Last pre-arbitration year

(3) arbitration years

(2) free agency years

+ a 2018 team option for $14.75MM.

Here are some quick takes on what I like about the deal:

1.  McCutchen becomes the first homegrown, marquee talent since C Jason Kendall before him to be long-term extended by the Pirates.  Hopefully, this is extension is more prolific.

Career-altering ankle shot; Image credit SI

Kendall’s 1997-2000 seasons were INSANE for a catcher, and look even better in hindsight (OPS+ of 114, 131, 136, 124).  But he suffered a nasty career-altering dislocated ankle in 2000; he never OPS’d higher than .815 after that.  Yet the Pirates were unwilling to suffer the fan backlash of losing a young, popular player, so he still signed a 6-year, $60MM extension that November.  Done at the apex of the original MLB contract surge that saw utterly fungible players like SP Darren Dreifort earn 8-figures a year, the Pirates came to regret the deal, and eventually traded Kendall to Oakland in 2006 for partial salary relief.

2.  The extension speaks volumes to McCutchen’s character.  While it may seem misguided to praise an athlete who just signed a deal worth up to $65MM+, McCutchen and his agent Steve Hammond had significant leverage in these negotiations.  Not only is McCutchen the Pirates’ only unquestioned All-Star, but the team needed desperately to retain him, yet had publicly blackballed the CF to the point that McCutchen had every reason to test free agency four years from now.

3.  His contract is nearly identical to what the Reds recently gave young CF Jay Bruce, despite McCutchen having better career numbers to date:

.822 OPS vs. Bruce’s .805 OPS

123 OPS+ vs. Bruce’s 112 OPS+

Bruce has nearly twice as many HR as McCutchen (100 vs. 51), but has a significant edge in SB (78 vs. 20), and is generally considered the better defender in CF.  The Pirates received very good value here relative to the market.

4.  Even on the Pirates’ self-imposed limited payroll budget, McCutchen fits in nicely, averaging less than $9MM per season, prior to the 2018 option.

Possible OF mate in 2013; Image credit bucconation

5.  This extension paves the way for a 2013 OF boasting both McCutchen and AAA CF Starling Marte.  While it would make for a whopper of an OF defensively, moving to LF would also diminish McCutchen’s value ever so slightly.  Considering the other OF mainstays are the light-hitting tandem of OF Jose Tabata and Alex Presley,  the Pirates may consider packaging some of this CF depth for a RF power bat in the future.  Surprisingly, the majority of MLB teams have a bevy of corner power bats, but are thin in CF.  The Pirates have the opposite, so could be wise to capitalize in trade on their rare depth of CF talent.

6.  Finally, and possibly most importantly, owner Bob Nutting has shown fans that the Pirates ARE willing to make a financial commitment to retaining home-grown, marquee talent, which is huge.  For the past 2-3 seasons, the Pirates have touted their spending in the amateur draft to rope in marquee talents like SP Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, international prospects like SP Luis Heredia, and hard signs like OF Josh Bell.  But the money spent on draft picks pales in comparison to the resources needed to maintain quality players at the MLB level.

Even with the extension, the Pirates will still enter the 2012 season with one of the lowest payrolls in the league, but for now, this is absolutely a step in the right direction.  Props to Andrew McCutchen, his agent, and the Pirates for sealing this deal!

Thanks for reading.

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