Analyzing the Andrew McCutchen Extension: Good Deal for Both Sides?

By Troy Pfaff

Yesterday, news broke of the Pittsburgh Pirates and All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen agreeing on a new six-year contract. The team officially announced the deal today

The deal itself is worth a total of $51 million over six seasons and could be worth an additional $14.75 million if the Pirates pick up the club option for 2018, the seventh year of the deal. Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of the money McCutchen will be paid, along with what McCutchen was scheduled for in parentheses:

  • 2012:  $500k + $1.25 million signing bonus ($500k salary)
  • 2013: $4.5 million  (Arbitration 1)
  • 2014: $7.25 million (Arbitration 2)
  • 2015: $10 million (Arbitration 3)
  • 2016: $13 million (Free Agency 1)
  • 2017: $14 million (Free Agency 2)
  • 2018: $14.75 million club option – or $1 million buyout (Free Agency 3)

The biggest part of this deal for Pittsburgh is that they bought out two or three years of free agency from the now 25-year-old. The team had control of McCutchen via arbitration through 2015, but this deal keeps him under team control for an additional two or three years. By doing this, the team retains control of McCutchen through age 31 rather than 28, keeping him in Pittsburgh for all of his prime years.

Salary-wise, I would say the Pirates got a good deal here. The money essentially mirrors the deals Justin Upton and Jay Bruce received in the last two years. Offensively, the three players are comparable. Upton is probably the best bat of the three until McCutchen combines the power numbers he put up last season with the contact numbers he had in 2010, which is expected to happen soon.

Defensively, McCutchen plays the more valuable center field position while Upton and Bruce man corner outfield spots.

In a few years, the Pirates could very well be paying the best center fielder in baseball $10 million. As a comparison, the 10th-highest paid player in the MLB (Boston Red Sox 1B Adrian Gonzalez) makes $22 million per year. I like the deal financially for the Pirates.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of this deal, though, is that it should make the Pirates a competitive baseball team through 2018. Think about it. Top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are expected to arrive in Pittsburgh in late 2013 or 2014. Outfielder Starling Marte should arrive next season at the latest and Josh Bell is likely to hit the majors in late 2014 or 2015. Pitchers Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie should also arrive in 2015.

Prior to the extension, 2015 likely would have been McCutchen’s last year in Pittsburgh before he left and signed a mega-deal with the Yankees or Red Sox. This means the Pirates would have fielded a team including a pitching staff with Cole, Taillon, Heredia, and Allie and an outfield consisting of McCutchen, Marte and Bell for one year max. Marte probably would have served as McCutchen’s replacement rather than his compliment. Now, the Pirates can send that team out in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, assuming all of those players remain under team control for that long. That team has the potential to be more than just competitive.

The bottom line is that the Pirates will be a much better team for three more years than they would have prior to the extension. It also gives the team more time to develop its prospects and a much better window for them to arrive in the majors rather than the organization feeling the need to push players through the system too quickly in hopes of all prospects hitting the majors before McCutchen leaves.

The final area this deal helps is in attracting free agents to Pittsburgh. We saw Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt flat out turn down good deals from the Pirates this offseason. Derrek Lee would rather retire than come back to Pittsburgh. Seeing the organization commit this amount of money to one player should help free agents realize Pittsburgh Pirates baseball is getting serious, though obviously the team will need to start winning as well.

Don’t take this all as being a bad deal for McCutchen, though. Worst case, he might be sacrificing a few million dollars over the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons if he hadn’t signed an extension and instead inked an aforementioned mega-deal with the Yankees immediately after becoming a free agent. What he does get, though, is security. If for some reason McCutchen doesn’t become the five-tool animal everyone is expecting him to turn into, he’s still going to make $51 million from the Pirates. I would be willing to say this isn’t the way for McCutchen to get paid the most money possible, but a long-term deal like this is always good financial security.

In the end, it’s a great deal for the Pirates and a nice one for McCutchen. The real winners here, though, are Pirates fans. We get to see McCutchen dazzle in the black and gold for six more years, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t excited about that.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff for more Pittsburgh Pirates news.

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