Any McCutchen Extension Needs to Include FA Years

The Pirates are discussing an extension with McCutchen.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and center fielder Andrew McCutchen are discussing a contract extension, according to Dejan Kovacevic.  Kovacevic mentions that it wasn’t clear when the two sides started negotiating, and that neither side would comment on the negotiations.

Overall this shouldn’t be a huge issue, and shouldn’t really mean anything.  However, the impatient desire to have the Pirates lock up one of their young players has elevated this situation to a higher status than it should have.  Ever since McCutchen arrived in the majors, there have been calls to extend him in a long term deal, similar to what Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun received.  I won’t claim that I wasn’t among those who would have liked to have seen this happen.  However, a little perspective was needed.

First of all, the extensions signed by Longoria (a week in to his pro career) and Braun (a year in to his pro career) are extremely rare.  Players usually sign extensions when they reach arbitration, and sometimes the year before.  A lot of hype went this off-season to the extensions signed by Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez.  Bruce was eligible for arbitration, while Gonzalez has 2+ years of service time, which is the equivalent to McCutchen in the upcoming off-season.

There’s a reason you don’t see players signing long term deals earlier than this point.  The club wants to see the player for more than one season, to know what they’re committing guaranteed money to.  The player wants to balance the risk/reward between a potential injury and a chance to increase his value.  Take Gonzalez, as an example.  Imagine how much less he would have made had he signed before his breakout year in 2010.

Of course, paranoia kicked in, and the thought was “if the Pirates haven’t signed McCutchen by now, and we’re not hearing about any talks, that means there are no talks, and he will either leave as a free agent, or be traded”.  Now we have word of the talks, although this quote from Dejan will likely bring up the next batch of complaints about the extension topic:

The most likely type of extension would be one that carries McCutchen through next season, plus his three arbitration years. He still would be eligible for free agency in 2016, based on his current status.

It’s not clear what Dejan means here.  An extension that buys out only the control years would be most likely in that it would be the easiest to agree upon.  It’s not clear whether he’s referring to this, or referencing these negotiations specifically.

If it was an extension that bought out nothing but controlled years, it would be pretty pointless, and a repeat of the Jason Bay extension, which did nothing for the team.  There’s the whole financial security aspect, but the value of financial security is nothing compared to the value of having McCutchen for even just one extra year of control.

I’ve said this before, but an extension really is meaningless.  The Pirates could extend McCutchen today, and he could still be gone by 2016 for numerous reasons.  Maybe Starling Marte emerges to replace him in center field.  Maybe the Pirates draft a top talent in the first round who will eventually take his place.  Maybe someone in the lower levels emerges as a top outfield prospect, also emerging as a replacement candidate.  Maybe McCutchen doesn’t live up to his potential.  The Pirates signed Nate McLouth to an extension, then traded him a few months later, in a deal that has worked out very well for the team so far.

No extension will guarantee that McCutchen will be with the team for X amount of years.  The biggest value of an extension at this stage in a player’s career is the trade off, with the team getting extra years of control, and the player getting financial security.  Again, an extension doesn’t guarantee that a player will be around for a certain amount of time, but it does give the team the option of keeping the player around.  Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata are all under control through the 2016 season.  At the least, it would be nice to have McCutchen under control through the same season.

Extending McCutchen only through his arbitration years is pointless.  It just buys some financial certainty, although that’s not necessarily a good thing.  It’s only good if McCutchen lives up to his potential, at which point, the Pirates get a value.  However, if McCutchen goes year to year, there’s not really a scenario where the Pirates couldn’t afford him through his arbitration years.  The only way that could happen is if he became one of the top players in the game, putting him in a Prince Fielder situation, where the team knew he was leaving once free agency arrived.

If the Pirates sign McCutchen to an extension, it needs to include free agent years.  It doesn’t matter whether those are guaranteed years, or option years.  The important thing is buying out control of those years, and potentially extending the time McCutchen will be in Pittsburgh.  That’s the approach to take with any player, although it’s especially true with McCutchen, as he’s currently set to hit free agency right in the middle of his prime.  It would be nice if the Pirates had him for most of his prime years, rather than letting him go right when he’s at his best.

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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