Pirates Lock Up Andrew McCutchen

Continuing Major League Baseball’s trend of breaking news in the middle of the night (thanks guys!), Michael Senserino reported about an hour ago that the Pirates had agreed to a six year, $51 million contract with star center fielder Andrew McCutchen. No need to bury the lede here – this is nothing short of a fantastic signing for the Pirates.

Just 25 years old, McCutchen had just over two years of accumulated service time, so this deal buys out his final pre-arbitration season, all three of his arb years, and his first two years of free agency, while also giving the Pirates a team option (for $14.75 million) on what would be his third free agent eligible season. Barring an injury or a total collapse of his skills, that option looks very likely to be exercised, so the working assumption should be that the Pirates have locked up McCutchen’s age 25-31 seasons for $65 million.

You don’t need to do any kinds of calculations to know that McCutchen’s likely going to be worth way, way more than that as long as he keeps going at the pace he’s established so far. Despite the fact that UZR hasn’t been a huge fan of his defense to date, he’s still managed to put up +12.9 WAR during his first three years in the big leagues – only Matt Kemp (+14.3), Josh Hamilton (+14.1, not really a CF going forward), Michael Bourn (+13.8), Curtis Granderson (+13.5), and Shane Victorino (+13.3) have outproduced him among center fielders since the start of the 2009 season. Toss in aging curves and regress the defensive metrics a bit more than the offensive numbers, and McCutchen’s right there with Kemp and Granderson for the title of best center fielder in the game.

Guys who can post a wRC+ of 126 in 1500 plate appearances through age 24 – while playing a good enough center field – are ridiculously rare. If you were starting a franchise from scratch tomorrow, McCutchen would be on the short list of guys you’d look at to build a team around. He’s already an All-Star and his broad base of skills and physical talents suggest that he could get even better. It’s not at all out of the question that McCutchen could peak as the best outfielder in the game. And now, with this deal, the Pirates have guaranteed that his best days will be spent in Pittsburgh.

In terms of the contract values, you don’t have to look very hard to figure out where the terms of this deal came from. Two years ago from Thursday, the Diamondbacks locked up Justin Upton to a six year, $51.25 million contract – that deal bought out his final pre-arbitration year, all of his arb years, and his first two years of free agency. Sound familiar?

Nine months later, the Reds signed Jay Bruce to a contract with nearly the exact same terms – six years, $51 million, with a club option for a seventh year at $13 million. Bruce had all of two days more service time when he signed his extension than McCutchen does now.

Put simply, this is the accepted going rate for young outfielders with 2+ years of service who have flashed a good amount of potential. However, the Pirates should be thrilled that they were able to negotiate the same deal with McCutchen as the D’Backs and Reds did with their young stars.

For one, salaries have gone up since both of those deals were signed. The new money being pushed into the league through increased revenues (especially television contracts) have caused the price of talent to go up, and we’ve seen a lot of money thrown around this winter for both free agents and guys getting extensions in lieu of going to arbitration. That the Pirates were able to negotiate a deal that essentially ignored the fact that inflation has occurred in the last 18-24 months is a win for them.

There’s also the fact that McCutchen simply has a better Major League track record at this point than either Bruce or Upton did when they were extended. In essentially three full seasons in the big leagues, he’s posted extremely consistent wRC+’s, going 125/125/129 since breaking into the big leagues. Bruce’s first three seasons went 93/96/122, while Upton went 55/103/132. Both players were coming off one season that were on par with what McCutchen has done, but he’s done it three years in a row, and he’s done it while playing center field. Both Bruce and Upton were younger than McCutchen when they broke into the big leagues, so you have to adjust their performances for their age as well, but the fact is that McCutchen’s stronger early career track record makes him a bit less of a risk in projecting future performance than either Bruce or Upton were.

Upton’s a fair comp for McCutchen, given their overall career performances and skills, but the Pirates simply got a better deal than Arizona did on the extension – they got the team option that Arizona didn’t and signed the deal in a market where player prices were going up. And, if you compare the McCutchen deal with the Bruce contract, you simply can’t get around the fact that the Pirates got a far superior player for the same price. I would have thought that McCutchen could have landed a deal more similar to the seven year, $80 million extension that Carlos Gonzalez got a year ago – it not only covered the same years of service time, but the same years in terms of age. Gonzalez might have been coming off a more impressive offensive season, but he also had a spottier track record and and a less refined game overall. That’s probably the deal that McCutchen should have aimed for, rather than settling for a carbon copy of the Bruce/Upton deals.

Pittsburgh fans, dance in the streets. Not only do you have one of the best players in the game locked up through his prime, you got him at a price that is a bit below what should have been expected based on his skills and the rising cost of locking up premium young talent. The Pirates have a true franchise player under wraps at prices that are going to make him one of the game’s best bargains for the foreseeable future.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

67 Responses to “Pirates Lock Up Andrew McCutchen”

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  1. Josh says:

    Fantastic deal for Pitt. Hopes of him becoming a Braves dashed more than likely.

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  2. cwendt says:

    An aside: Brett Gardner, who’s not a CF but should be, has also out-WARed McCutcheon.

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    • bstar says:

      With a WHOLE lotta help from that short porch in left field to overly inflate his dWAR numbers.

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      • Jon L. says:

        Short porch in left field?

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      • bstar says:

        Yankee Stadium’s short left field, yes.

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      • Josh says:

        The short porch at Yankee stadium is in right, not left.

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      • T Biggums says:

        bstar was inferring that the still relatively short porch in left helps Gardner’s defensive range numbers, as he has less ground to cover. Not sure I agree with him, but that was his point.

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      • Ed says:

        Left field at Yankee Stadium is only short right at the foul line. It gets deeper fast as you move away from the foul line. Any benefit from the corner is dwarfed by the 399ft in left center.

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      • bstar says:

        Check out Jacoby Ellsbury’s dWAR from last year, and compare it to Dexter Fowler’s in Colorado. Yes, that was the point I was making.

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    • tquinn420 says:

      An aside to that aside:

      The Yankees paid Jeter 51 million for three years…….fail

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    • Colin says:

      And we assume he would have out WAR’ed him if Gardner was playing CF how exactly? Do not see the point of this comment.

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      • cwendt says:

        From LF –> CF, the positional adjustment & loss of UZR should even out, if the tools are there. In other words, UZR is telling us that Gardner is a +15 CF trapped in LF.

        Point of the comment: Dave is interested in comparing McCutcheon to CFs…yet there are some CFs out there who aren’t in CF.

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      • bstar says:

        Put Gardner in CF in Colorado and let’s see what kind of dWAR he puts up.

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    • adohaj says:

      But he isn’t a CF, and he put up that war with +25 UZR defense. Which in my opinion means a whole lot less than 3 years of wRC+ of at least 125

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  3. Jaik Jarrkjens says:

    Well played, Pittsburgh. McCutchen is a solid player at an up the middle position. You really can’t go wrong locking a guy like that up. I hope the Braves make a similar offer to Heyward if he bounces back this season.

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  4. Will says:

    Hopefully this is a beginning to a return to contending for the Pirates, good move.

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  5. Slartibartfast says:

    Chalk another up for small market teams locking up elite talent. Great for the game. Congrats Bucs fans.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Chalk another up for small market teams locking up elite talent. Great for the game.

      Not if it means that no one ever sees McCuthcen play, either at the stadium or on national TV.

      Great signing for the team, and for AMcC as well (security). It goes without saying that this should help them team be able to focus on future moves while knowing they have him locked up.

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      • adohaj says:

        “Not if it means that no one ever sees McCuthcen play, either at the stadium or on national TV.”

        What if people listen on the radio?

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      • Marver says:

        Sounds like a flaw in the way the TV schedule is devised, not that Pittsburgh locked him up.

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  6. bstar says:

    Great article, Dave, and here’s to the Pirates maybe getting back enough to respectability and get that home town crowd going. It’s a fantastic ballpark.

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  7. Slats says:

    I think Pittsburgh is on the rise and they will shock a lot of teams. Great to see them put up the money for a special player!

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  8. Steve Marino says:

    Nice piece, Dave. And extra props for publishing it at a very late hour.

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  9. Anthony says:

    Solid price for solid talent, but mccutchen will probably never peak as the best OF in baseball, and it will likely be because he has been out of physical projection for 5 years. The dude is 5’10 170 lbs and it took all the power in his itty bitty little frame (plus a .030 BA tradeoff) to het to 23 HRs. Physically he doesn’t have the upside of an Upton, or a Kemp, or a Heyward, or even Bruce. He’s a top of the lineup type miscast as a run producer on a miserable offense.

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    • Kirsh says:

      McCutchen is, has been, and will continue to be a markedly better player than Jay Bruce. Other than Bruce’s slight edge in power (which is exacerbated by the huge difference between their home parks), McCutchen is superior in every facet of the game.

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      • Scott says:

        I agree about Bruce. Is it just me, but does Jay Bruce seem like the next coming of Pat Burrell?

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      • cable fixer says:

        how did jay bruce’s potential become this underrated?

        defensively, jay bruce already has a +20 UZR season and has 100 HR despite only being 24. hitters primes are 26-28 right? he’s younger than mccutcheon and conceivably has more room to grow. he shouldn’t be penalized for putting up positive WAR in the majors before he was legally able to buy a beer…

        or are people just reading too much into his .221 babip fueled 2009? just because he was a BA#1 guy and looks like he won’t live up to the bondsian hype doesn’t mean that he’s not going to be a way above average player…

        i’m buying bruce stock.

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      • bstar says:

        Yeah, me too. I love his swing, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Pat Burrell, seriously? I love McCutchen too, but in my opinion Bruce still has a slightly higher upside (long-term).

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    • matt w says:

      23 HRs in the worst park for HRs by right-handers is nothing to sneeze at.

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    • Pat G says:

      Kirsh, i think he was talking about pure upside, pared with the “even bruce” i think he was hinting that bruce’s ceiling is slightly higher. i dont totally disagree with that statement

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      • Kirsh says:

        Even if that’s what he meant, I disagree. McCutchen is a better defender and does everything better than Bruce except hit home runs, and the difference there isn’t very significant.

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  10. Anthony says:

    Solid price for solid talent, but mccutchen will probably never peak as the best OF in baseball, and it will likely be because he has been out of physical projection for 5 years. The dude is 5’10 170 lbs and it took all the power in his itty-bitty little frame (plus a .030 BA tradeoff) to het to 23 HRs. Physically he doesn’t have the upside of an Upton, or a Kemp, or a Heyward, or even Bruce. He’s a top of the lineup type miscast as a run producer on a miserable offense.

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  11. Josh says:

    Is this automatically one of the 5 most team-friendly contracts in MLB? Huge coup for the Pirates.

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  12. Ricky says:

    This is a good deal assuming $5m/war and 5% annual salary inflation

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    • Shane says:

      The Pirates won’t win using that model because their payroll simply is not high enough. That being said, this is the guy they need to pay, good deal.

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      • bill says:

        Nutting has indicated that he will spend when the time is right. The Bucs did make very serious offers to Wilson and, I believe, Edwin Jackson, but both turned them down.

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  13. Marty Brennaman says:

    McCuthen better than Bruce??!!!?!?! Preposterous!!

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  14. Nik says:

    Amazing how Victorino has outproduced Cutch. Shane really doesn’t get enough respect.

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    • Lenard says:

      He’s really the forgotten man, offensively, behind Rollins, Howard, and Utley there. Which is a shame, because he’s much better at this point than all three of them.

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      • jcxy says:

        umm…utley?

        no.

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      • bstar says:

        Last year was the first year, ever, that Victorino out-WAR’ed Utley. Here’s to hoping for his HOF chances that Utley can get some of that elite magic back with his bat.(Did I just say that? I’m a Braves fan). Hard to root against Utley,though, or Victorino for that matter.

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  15. Fred says:

    I could be wrong, but wouldn’t McCutchen have been eligible for arbitration this year?

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    • gonfalon says:

      McCutchen would have been eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season… he narrowly missed Super Two eligibility after 2011.

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      • Fred says:

        So then the contract actually buys out 3 arbitration years and 3 free agency years right?

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      • gonfalon says:

        bucsdugout.com said it is “Six years, $51.5 million with a $14.75 million club option. This buys out two free agent years. McCutchen would have been a free agent after the 2015 season; including the club option, this move can keep him in Pittsburgh until after the 2018 season.”

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  16. Kevin Ebert says:

    Although it was surely implied, we need to give some credit to the Pirates GM Neal Huntington. He’s really got his team on the right track. Recognizing McCutchen as the star he is, when he’s not universally regarded as such, is a smart move.

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  17. kid says:

    I’m fine with acknowledging McCutchen as a high-quality real life player if we stop treating him like a future 30/30 fantasy player. He’s more like an enhanced Shane Victorino than he is a lite version of Justin Upton or Matt Kemp.

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    • hernandez17 says:

      He just turned 25. And he’s already a 20/20 player drawing 89 BB in the major leagues. Dude is a star in the making. Not a talent of Kemp’s caliber but he will be a far better hitter than Victorino ever was.

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      • WeWantAPitcher says:

        I’m sure this was the Pirates main concern too.

        Well, Andrew – we don’t really think you’re a 30/30 fantasy player so we’d like to shave a few million off the deal.

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      • Pat G says:

        Check out markakis’ statistical profile and compare it to mccutch… eerily similar

        projecting him for 30 HRs is a risky proposition

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      • kid says:

        So your reading comprehension skills led you to equate “we” with “The Pittsburgh Pirates organization”? Interesting.

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  18. gonfalon says:

    It’s about time… this is a win for the Pirates and other smaller-market teams in general.

    and the fact that 10 out of 36 comments in this thread so far talk about the Yankees rather than McCutchen made me laugh for some reason.

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  19. joe says:

    Dave, have salaries gone up the last few years?

    2009 $/WAR 4.5
    2010 $/WAR 4.0
    2011 $/WAR 4.5

    Seems like the clear perception is that salaries have gone up, but is it really the case?

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    • gonfalon says:

      I’m curious about this too… has the mean increased, but the median stayed about the same in recent years?

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  20. Keystone Heavy says:

    I honestly almost didn’t bother reading this because I thought it would be 1,000 words on his $/WAR and future $/WAR. I was pleasantly surprised to find none of that.

    Also, who is McCutchen’s agent, and how can I get him to represent Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Napoli?

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  21. the fume says:

    huh, i thought mccutchen had put up better numbers for some reason. obviously a great signing because at his age he could go upton any minute, but with the hype i remember him getting i thought he’d have had a .900 ops season or a top level defensive season by now.

    on 2nd thought that’s prolly good for pittsburgh considering that if he had blown up last year he’d probably have cost a lot more.

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  22. Marver says:

    This begs the question “who would you have rather resigned for what they just resigned for: Cameron Maybin or Andrew McCutcheon?”

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    • jcxy says:

      that’s a sneaky good question.

      i think they have reasonably similar ceilings…but mccutchen is way closer to actualizing his.

      then again, they’ll probably stop giving mccutch the green light if he continues to steal at a 66%ish rate…and maybin might be a better match for the ballpark and comes at a discount…and if he could develop 15 HR power…hmmm

      tough question.

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  23. Lawrence McCutcheon says:

    Why do people keep putting an “o” in Andrew McCutchen’s name? Was my NFL career that memorable?

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    • bstar says:

      Yes, it was. You were the Rams’ all-time leading rusher ’til Marshall Faulk and Stephen Jackson came along.

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  24. bstar says:

    Oh yeah, and that Dickerson guy was pretty good, too.

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  25. Antonio Bananas says:

    As cutch ages what’s the comp? Will he be a guy who thickens up and gets moved to a corner near the end of this deal or will he stay in center? Also, if he gets moved to one of the corners, how does that effect his value if at all?

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