Thinking about an Andrew McCutchen extension

In today’s Tribune Review, Rob Biertempfel talks about the current state of contract extension discussions between the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen. You should check out the whole piece, but the basic idea is that as things stand right now McCutchen’s camp is looking to sign a deal in the ballpark of the extensions signed by Justin Upton and Jay Bruce, both of which topped out around $50 million, whereas the Pirates are hoping to pay him in the ballpark of $10 million less than that. 

Let’s look at Bruce and Upton’s deals. Bruce signed his deal prior to the 2011 season, with a little more than two years of MLB experience. He turned 24 right around Opening Day last year, whereas McCutchen turned 25 last October (McCutchen’s a year older, for baseball purposes). Bruce got a $250,000 signing bonus and the deal paid him $2.75 million in 2011, and it’ll pay him $5 million, $7.5 million, $10 million, $12 million, and $12.5 million from 2012-2016. The Reds hold a $13 million option for 2017 with a $1 million buyout. Upton signed his extension just before the 2010 season started. He also had just over two years of big league experience, and he was the youngest of the three players when he signed at the age of 22 (remember that we’re talking about Bruce and Upton’s ages when they signed, compared to McCutchen’s age now, not their actual ages). His deal gave him a $ 1.25 million bonus and annual salaries worth $500k, $4.25 million, $6.75 million, $9.75 million, $14.25 million, and $14.5 million fro 2010-2015. The Diamondbacks don’t have any options. 

To summarize, Bruce got six years and $51 million to cover his age 24-29 years, which includes his first two free agency seasons. The Reds got an option on his third year of free agency. Upton got six years and $51 million to cover his age 22-27 seasons, also including his first two free agency years with no option. If McCutchen were to sign a six year contract today, it’d go from ages 25-30 and also include his first two years of free agency. 

I suppose the next logical question is whether or not McCutchen deserves the same kind of deal that Bruce and Upton got, given that that’s supposedly what’s being discussed here. How does the trio compare? Let’s break out the WAR graph.

Source: FanGraphsJustin Upton, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce

McCutchen’s clearly had the best career through his first 2+ seasons, though he started his career at an older age and thus he’s older at this juncture of his career. If the Pirates are trying to make the case that he’s worth less than Upton or Bruce, that’s really the only ground that they have to stand on; that theyr’e signing him at an older age and they’ll be paying for more seasons post-peak. Otherwise, it’s easy to see from that graph (use this graph for reference) why McCutchen and his agents would have pegged his value to Bruce and Upton.

Really, the existence of Bruce’s deal more or less sets McCutchen’s value, no matter what the Pirates want to do here. I think that McCutchen’s a better player than Bruce; he’s a more complete hitter and he plays a more valuable defensive position. The one year in age difference isn’t worth $10 million, especially if McCutchen’s willing to sign away two years of free agency to the Pirates. 

Biertempfel says that the Pirates are willing to negotiate here, and that’s good. What worries me is that I think that McCutchen’s capable of a year that blows 2011 out of the water. As Jonah Keri pointed out two weeks ago, McCutchen’s shown a lot of different tools over the last three years and though he’s had awesome stretches, he hasn’t managed to put everything together over a full season yet. If he does that in 2012 (and, let’s be honest here, we all hope he does as Pirate fans), there’s no way he’ll sign a five-year deal for $48 million for two of his free agency years. 

I think it’s pretty early on and we don’t know a whole lot about what the two sides really want right now so I’m not willing to say that the Pirates just need to step up and give McCutchen the money, but I do think he’s worth the same sort of deal that Bruce got and if it turns out that the Pirates weren’t willing to give it to him, I’m going to be pretty disappointed. We’re a ways away from that, though, and so at this point I’m just going to be heartened that they’re talking and that McCutchen’s apparently willing to talk about a deal that will give the Pirates some control over his free agency.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.