Andrew McCutchen might be the first true star player the Pirates have had since Barry Bonds. Brian Giles was good. Jason Bay was good. But McCutchen? He could be great. He’s already good. That’s been obvious since the moment he stepped foot in the majors.
In his rookie year, McCutchen hit the ground running, hitting for a .286/.365/.471 line, with 12 homers and 22 stolen bases in 433 at-bats. In his first full season, at the age of 23, he hit for a .286/.365/.449 line with 16 homers and 33 stolen bases in 570 at-bats. McCutchen is now 24 years old, and in his second full season in the majors. So far he has been spectacular. Heading in to the All-Star break, the young center fielder has a .291/.389/.491 line with 12 homers and 15 stolen bases in 320 at-bats. He’s a strong bet to finish with 25 homers and 30 stolen bases. That hasn’t been done since Barry Bonds hit 34 homers and stole 39 bases in 1992.
McCutchen is so good that he currently rates as the third best position player in the majors, according to WAR, falling right behind Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes this year. That’s not only due to his numbers, but also due to his excellent fielding. His UZR/150 ranks 7th in the majors this year among outfielders, and fourth among center fielders. And he’s only 24.
That got me thinking the other day. What would Andrew McCutchen be worth in a trade? Put the pitch forks away. I’m not suggesting the Pirates trade him. I just wanted to see how much would a team have to overpay to get a guy who looks like he could be a star? I decided to run it through the trade calculator.
NOTE: The purpose here is to show what Andrew McCutchen’s value is during his control years, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$5 M) - Salary]) and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values.
Explanation: First of all, I had no clue what to do with his salary, so I went for an amount that ended up as an average of $11 M a year. That’s pretty fair if his WAR is correct. As for his WAR, McCutchen currently has a 4.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs. I think it’s safe to say that he’s capable of putting up a 6.0 WAR on average from here on out. When you consider that his best years are ahead of him, that 6.0 WAR might even be conservative. The 2011 value is pro-rated for July to the end of the season, and the total value adds $5 M for a projected Type A free agent.
What He’s Worth: So what would it take right now to over-pay for McCutchen? Let’s put it this way. The Texas Rangers would have to send their top four prospects: Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin, and Robbie Erlin. That’s the number six, number 12, number 25, and number 34 prospect in baseball, according to the recent top 50 rankings by Baseball America. And guess what? That wouldn’t even get it done. They would still need to come up with about $17 M in value. Or, to put that in prospect terms, another top 100 pitching prospect, and a Grade C pitcher. Overall, a trade for McCutchen would require five top 100 prospects, with four in the top 25.
My Opinion: Forget about trading him. No team could afford him at this point in his career. Well, there’s one team…
Heading in to the season there were calls to extend McCutchen. Throughout the season we’ve heard talk about the Pirates being open to extension talks, and similar talk has come from McCutchen. I’ve pointed out in the past that it’s not normal for players to sign extensions so early in their careers. Normally players and teams wait until the arbitration years approach. That gives maximum time for the team to evaluate what they have in the player, and maximum time for the player to increase his value.
Overshadowed by the surprising season the Pirates are having is the fact that we’re in the middle of a breakout year for McCutchen. It’s hard to argue that he’s not putting up star numbers. He’s got great defense, strong offensive numbers, he’s hitting for power, he’s a threat on the bases, and he’s pretty much carrying the Pirates’ offense at times. The time to extend McCutchen is now. It should be priority number one between now and the start of the 2012 season. Forget adding players at the deadline. Forget spending money in the off-season. The number one goal should be locking up McCutchen.
The guide I would use at this point, due to the break out season we’re in, is Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez signed an extension back in January, prior to his final 0-3 year (which is the same situation McCutchen will be in during the 2012 season). Gonzalez signed for seven years and $80 M, buying out three free agent years. Here is how that would look for McCutchen:
$3 M signing bonus, $1 M assignment bonus if traded
2012: $1 M
2013: $5 M
2014: $7.5 M
2015: $10.5 M
2016: $16 M
2017: $17 M
2018: $20 M
Now let’s be honest. I don’t see the Pirates paying $16-20 M a year for any player. Even if they could somehow get to the point where they could spend $80 M, that’s almost 25% of their total payroll. Of course, it would be easier to lock McCutchen down with a flat rate contract, with the center fielder making $11 M a year each year, plus the $3 M bonus. And even if they trade McCutchen for the final three years under the Gonzalez-like structure, they’d be getting $33 M in value, or a top 10 hitting prospect (assuming he remains a 6.0 WAR, and it would be more value if he increased his WAR). That’s a better alternative than just letting him walk for two draft picks, which is what would happen if there was no extension.
McCutchen is in the middle of a break out year. He’s showing that he’s one of the most valuable young players in baseball. The time is now for the Pirates to lock him up. They’ve got the money to spend, especially now, with the young roster taking up very little in payroll. McCutchen is a player you build around. To start, you need to lock him up and guarantee that he’ll be there anchoring your team for years to come.