The Market for McCutchen is Set

The Reds extended Jay Bruce, which could help set the value of McCutchen.

I’ve talked a lot about Andrew McCutchen this off-season, both in terms of the possibility that he could be a Super Two player following the 2011 season, as well as what it could cost to extend him and buy out some free agent years.  So far, the Pirates haven’t contacted McCutchen about an extension, although the market for his extension may be set.

Last night the Cincinnati Reds reached an extension with outfielder Jay Bruce, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.  Bruce, who was Super Two eligible this off-season, signed for six years and $51 M guaranteed, which buys out all four arbitration years, plus two free agent years.  The deal also has an option for a seventh year at $13 M, with a $1 M buyout.

Bruce and McCutchen have been compared a lot in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates drafted McCutchen in 2005 one pick before the Reds drafted Bruce.  The Reds called Bruce up in 2008, which led to disappointment over McCutchen, using the classic “Player A arrived in the majors first, so he must be better than Player B” reasoning.  Now Bruce signed an extension as a Super Two player, and everyone in Pittsburgh wants the Pirates to extend McCutchen, who could be a Super Two player next off-season.

The deal Bruce signed follows a year in which he posted a .281/.353/.493 line in 509 at-bats, along with strong defense in right field, leading to a 5.3 WAR.  That’s a big jump from his 1.7 WAR the previous season.  By comparison, McCutchen has been at a consistent 3.3 WAR in his first two years in the majors.  The contract that Bruce took could represent the maximum value for McCutchen, if he reaches Super Two eligibility next season, and if he sees an improvement in his WAR value.

The deal for Bruce averages out to $8.5 M a year for six years.  If the Reds pick up his 2017 option, the total value of the deal will be $63 M, raising the annual value to $9 M.  Based on his 2010 WAR, the deal has an annual value of 37.5% of Bruce’s free agent value.  If McCutchen doesn’t improve from his 3.3 WAR, then 37.5% of his free agent value would be $5.7 M a year, which amounts to $40 M total over seven seasons.

Depending on how McCutchen does in 2011, a similar extension to the one Bruce received would be worth upwards of anywhere between $40 M (McCutchen’s current value) and $63 M (Bruce’s 2010 value).  I’ve mentioned how it’s rare for a player to receive an extension prior to his arbitration years, and Bruce is just another example of the norm of a player getting that extension once he reaches arbitration.  The Reds had talked about extending Bruce for awhile, but waited until he became Super Two eligible.  That’s why I wouldn’t expect anything on the McCutchen front until at least next off-season, when McCutchen could be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two player, just like Bruce this off-season.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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