Ever since Andrew McCutchen was first called up to the majors, Pittsburgh Pirates fans were waiting for one thing: an extension. When he first arrived in the majors, McCutchen had the potential to be the best player developed by the Pirates since Barry Bonds. Unlike a lot of other home-grown prospects in the last two decades, McCutchen almost immediately lived up to the hype.
Fans had seen other teams lock up their players to long-term deals. Evan Longoria signed an extension with the Tampa Bay Rays within a month after making his major league debut. Ryan Braun signed an extension with the Milwaukee Brewers a year after making his debut. Both players gave up control of multiple free agent years. McCutchen was the first player during the Pirates’ rebuild who warranted a similar deal. So from the day he was called up, Pirates fans were waiting for such a deal to be reached.
Fans waited. And they waited. But it wasn’t that the Pirates were dragging their feet on an extension. It’s that extensions like Longoria and Braun received were rare. Most players signed closer to their arbitration years, and very few signed with fewer than two years of service.
The two comparable players to McCutchen’s extension were Jay Bruce and Justin Upton. Bruce signed when he was arbitration eligible, becoming eligible as a Super Two player. Upton signed after his second year of service time, a year before becoming eligible for arbitration. That was the same point McCutchen was at this off-season.
Pirates fans had wanted an extension since day one, so when McCutchen reached a point where it was reasonable to expect an extension, fans felt such an extension was overdue. So when word came out that the Pirates and McCutchen reached a deal, it was probably totally unexpected for those who had started writing off any possibility for a deal to be made, all because the Pirates weren’t one of the rare teams who signed a player prior to year two of service.
The reaction to the deal was not something that was unexpected. It was great news. Normally any move that is made is met with a variety of opinions. Some like the move and some hate the move. The McCutchen extension is one of those rare moves where almost everyone has the same positive opinion on the move. In fact, I’d be surprised if anyone felt the move was a bad decision. Sure, you might have some who will theorize that this makes McCutchen easier to trade, pointing to Nate McLouth’s extension. I don’t think the Pirates needed an extension if they wanted to trade McCutchen, and I don’t think a team can easily give up fair value for McCutchen like the Braves did with McLouth. But even the people with this theory seem to be in favor of the move.
The move was a great one. One could argue that it’s the best move this management team has made since taking over in the 2007-2008 off-season. The Pirates had a young player who was looking like a rising superstar, and who was under team control through the age of 28. They extended him and kept him under team control through the age of 31, thus capturing control of all of his prime years.
While the extension was a great move, it really does nothing in the short-term. The 2012 roster was always going to feature Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates didn’t add anyone new when making this deal. If they were projected for 72-75 wins yesterday, they’re still projected for 72-75 wins today. The real value of this move comes in the long-term impact.
In 2013 the Pirates could see top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole make his professional debut. Jameson Taillon could join him on an aggressive push, although 2014 would be more likely in Taillon’s case. Prior to the McCutchen extension, the Pirates were looking at two and a half years with Cole and McCutchen on the same team, and one and a half years with Cole, Taillon, and McCutchen on the same team. This all assumes that Cole and Taillon arrive under those time frames and make an immediate impact in the majors.
Starling Marte will probably arrive in Pittsburgh in 2013. Josh Bell looks like he could be a guy who could move quickly through the minors, arriving as early as mid-season 2014. Prior to the extension, the Pirates were looking at three years maximum with Marte and McCutchen in the same lineup. Josh Bell would have been with McCutchen for a year and a half, although without an extension it’s likely that he would have been McCutchen’s replacement. Now Pirates fans can dream about an outfielder that features McCutchen, an Andrew McCutchen-lite in Starling Marte, and a potential .300/30 home run hitter in Josh Bell. They can also dream about that outfield knowing that it could be together for at least four and a half years, rather than a year and a half.
You could go on with the examples. Tony Sanchez arriving in 2013. Alex Dickerson in 2013 or 2014. Luis Heredia in 2015. The 2012 first round pick arriving in the next few years. Obviously not every prospect will make it to the majors or live up to his potential, but the common theme is that whoever arrives in the next few years could be playing baseball on the same team as Andrew McCutchen for three more years than they would have prior to this extension. Considering that McCutchen is the best player to wear a Pirates’ uniform since Barry Bonds left town, that impact is huge.
The biggest impact here comes with the pitching. The Pirates have stockpiled a lot of talented arms over the last few years. They’ve got two of the top pitching prospects in the game in Cole and Taillon. Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie are both projects, but both have tremendous arms. Then there’s all of the prep pitchers who the Pirates have drafted from 2009-2011. If just one of those guys becomes an ace like Cole or Taillon, it would be an incredible luxury.
While the Pirates have been building up this pitching depth, a common statement has been floating around: by the time the pitching gets here, the hitting will be gone. That obviously referred to McCutchen being under team control through the 2015 season. Going back to the timelines mentioned above, that would have given two and a half years with Cole, and one and a half years with Taillon. Luis Heredia may have never played on a team with McCutchen. The same could be said for a lot of the prep pitchers.
Now the Pirates have their best player locked up for the long-term. They’ve got a lot of talented pitchers on the way. You could start to imagine a team that could contend when you think about a team that features McCutchen anchoring the offense, and Cole and Taillon leading the pitching staff. And now that team could be together for about half a decade. That’s definitely something to get excited about if you’re a Pirates fan.