First Pitch: An Extension For Andrew McCutchen Shouldn’t Be a Priority in 2015

There was a time in recent Pittsburgh Pirates history when Pirates fans discussed trading Andrew McCutchen for prospects. It was prior to the 2012 season. A winning season was still a pipe dream at the time. McCutchen hadn’t been extended yet. He wasn’t even an MVP at the time — just a good, young player with a ton of upside. The thought was that the Pirates would miss their chance for an extension, would continue losing, and would be forced to trade McCutchen and get whatever they could, rather than watching him walk via free agency.

Then, a month before the season, they extended him. That season saw a breakout year, with a 6.8 WAR. The next season he became an MVP, and the Pirates made the playoffs. And now, three years later, the Pirates have made the playoffs two years in a row, are strong contenders to make it for a third year, and are considered a model franchise. Meanwhile, McCutchen is locked up through the 2018 season, and is one of the best players in baseball.

It made sense to call for an extension prior to the 2012 season, and it wasn’t totally unjustified to worry about McCutchen’s future with the team. The Pirates ended up getting one of the best values in sports with the extension, but that was because they made the deal at the right time. If they would have waited another year, they either would have had to pay a lot more, or might have missed out on an extension completely. If the latter would have happened, then McCutchen would be entering the 2015 season as a pending free agent, ready to get a record-setting deal next off-season.

That scenario I just laid out — the one that didn’t happen, thankfully — is the only scenario where it makes sense to discuss an Andrew McCutchen extension in 2015.

Rob Biertempfel wrote that the Pirates would consider a high salary to keep McCutchen, throwing out a $25 M a year figure. The only problem is that it is way too soon to be discussing this type of thing with McCutchen, as he still has four years of control remaining.

So much has changed in the last three years. We don’t know what things will look like three years from now. Will McCutchen still be performing like an MVP, or even like a star? Keep in mind that the extension would start in his age 32 season. Could the Pirates have better internal options, with someone like Austin Meadows, or maybe someone we aren’t even talking about. Three years ago, Gregory Polanco was just starting to show signs of breaking out, and Starling Marte was still in the minors.

None of this is saying McCutchen shouldn’t be extended. It’s just saying that it would be foolish to extend McCutchen early, when the Pirates have four years of control remaining, and when a lot can happen in those four years. If you’re paying top dollar, then you might as well wait and see if you need to pay that.

The only way it would make sense to discuss a McCutchen extension this soon, or even to extend him this soon, would be if he accepts an Evan Longoria-type discount. Longoria signed a six-year, $100 M deal at the end of the 2012 season. This was despite the fact that the Rays still had him under team control for the next four seasons. Longoria’s deal not only gave the Rays a discount, but allowed them to defer money — $11 M without interest from 2017-2022. Longoria has the chance to earn an additional $5 M in 2023, but that all depends on how he ranks in awards in 2022, which means he’d still have to be a good player to receive that boost. Once again, another benefit for the Rays.

It would be unreasonable to expect any player to take that type of deal. If McCutchen took that type of discounted deal, it would be a charity, and he would be deserving of a statue outside of PNC Park the day he signed the deal. He’d basically be passing up about $100 M in guaranteed dollars by giving the Pirates a comparable discount in today’s terms.

This type of deal is unlikely to happen, but it’s the only deal that makes sense discussing at this point. Otherwise, the topic of a McCutchen extension is best saved for a few years from now, when we actually know if McCutchen should be extended beyond his age 31 season, and when we actually know whether the Pirates need to bring him back at all.

**A quick count shows we have less than 120 hard copy books of the 2015 Prospect Guide from the most recent shipment. We’ve already sold more than last year’s total, and I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the hard copy version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

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**The Change That Will Help Tyler Glasnow Reach His Upside. You had to know it would only be a matter of time before I did a video feature on the top prospect in the system. Some good stuff about Glasnow’s development in the AFL this off-season.

**How Josh Bell’s Move To First Base Could Solve His Late-Season Drop In Power. Could offer an explanation as to why he saw a drop in power at the end of the year, and discusses his move to first base in 2015 and how he is preparing for that move.

**Pirates Have 11th Highest Draft Bonus Pool In 2015

**Draft Prospect Watch: Could Another Tucker Interest Pirates This Year?

  • Of course not, he’s got a very team friendly deal. If you want to show him love, pick up his option year earlier. The time to extend him is 2017 at the earliest.

  • Way to early for an extension. Look at the Ryan Howard extension signed a few years before he hit free agency when he was a superstar. Now its the worst contract ever. a lot changes every year and there are too many variables to account for to ensure it will be a reasonable deal for the pirates

  • Off topic but here are some of Greg Brown’s bleeped calls to get everyone fired up for the season:
    http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/05/06/the-long-awaited-greg-brown-bleep-post/

  • If Cutch is agreeable to an extension, if management is comfortable with the dollars, get it done! Why not? Don’t we have enough of a sample size to be comfortable with the risk? Isn’t his body type the type that won’t blow up? And he stays healthy.

    I can’t think of any reason not to extend him. Why do we have to stay in the bottom 7th or 8th of payroll?

    • HE is literally always beat up, you can tell when he isn’t running, which is a lot. You guys are blind. The dude is 5’11 and barely 200 pounds, running around crashing into walls getting beaned in the head, etc. He isn’t going to last with the bat speed and leg speed he has now into his mid 30’s, his power is all legs and bat speed, and it will diminish around 33 years old. what do you do then with a center fielder who can’t run well, doesn’t throw well, and can’t catch up to a mid 90’s fastball?

      • Hello first base, just like Stargell did. and don’t give this crap that he doesn’t homer enough for that position. I have always hated that baseball meme about correlating a guy”s offense with where he plays in the field.

  • a four year extension is a bit too much at this point. if they merely were to purchase his option year and an additional year or two for 20-25M per (perhaps also a mutual option year), and give him a 10-15M bonus, it would at least be potentially worthwhile to both sides.

  • I mentioned this in an earlier post, but the best way to extend a superstar, HOF type player like Cutch would be to offer a post career share of ownership in the club as part of his compensation package. This would give him the opportunity to earn from the Pirates for the rest of his life, and the value of his share in the club would grow as he grows older. When the present value of these future benefits are considered Cutch could be signed for relatively little cash in the immediate budgets so that the Pirates aren’t hampered in signing additional talent to enable them to compete for WS titles for the rest of Cutch’s career.

    • lonleylibertarian
      March 2, 2015 9:21 am

      others probably know for sure – but I believe ownership interest is not allowed in player compensation packages. Deferred – delayed payments are possible – but have lost popularity – most players want the money and want to manage it actively

  • When all the economics breaks down it comes to this. We better enjoy the Cutch-Marte-Polanco outfield while we have it. 2 maybe 3 years together and then someone is going to get moved. I would prefer to see it be Polanco to keep Cutch in black and gold for almost his entire career. I’m just sentimental that way. Would love to see that man’s plaque in Cooperstown with a Pirate cap on it.

    • I don’t doubt Cutch will go into the Hall of Fame as Pirate regardless of where he finishes his career. But if I had to choose between his bust wearing a different cap and another seven to 10 years of respectability, I’d opt for the latter.

      As I tried to argue above, now that the Pirates are viable again, they can expect to consistently draft at the lower end of the scale. You can do that for only just so long before you start to notice your system is stocked with a lot of role players and bullpen arms rather than budding stars. And for a small-market team that can’t afford to fix its problems in the free agency, that’s a recipe for failure.

      The best way for the Pirates to sustain excellence is by regarding players like Cutch as assets that can be leveraged for the top-end talent you’re no longer able to draft on a consistent basis.

      By all means sign them to one affordable extension when they’re still in the developmental stage, but under no circumstances should you consider mortgaging the future just to keep one player — no matter who he is — in black and gold for his entire career.

  • lonleylibertarian
    February 27, 2015 9:09 am

    I agree that the extension idea is a bit premature – but for slightly different reasons. If the Bucs are going to stay in the bottom tier of payroll AND compete they need to be smart about how the place their bets. IF Polanco develops into a 4+ WAR player they can consider moving him and/or Marte and Walker for nearly ready prospects with several years of control to fill the pipeline and keep the team competitive. That wold make room for Meadows in 2016 – AND make a $25M a year extension for Cutch possible and a good idea. If they don’t get solid production from Polanco they will need to hold on for another year or two and see how things develop.

  • I have no doubt Cutch will be a very productive player well into his 30s, but the Pirates absolutely shouldn’t extend him because the cost of doing so would prevent them from doing literally anything else. No free agents, no extensions for other players. Nothing. And that’s no way for a small-market team to stay viable.

    The Pirates became relevant again largely on the basis of making wise choices at the top of the draft (Cutch, Walker, Cole, Taillon, Pedro, etc.). But success comes at a price, and the team is now drafting lower in the order. There’s still talent to be had there, but they can’t rely on the draft to the extent they once did.

    The alternative is to restock the system with premium prospects by trading away established players like Cutch before they leave via free agency. By that time, presumably Meadows will be ready to step in and replace him — if not completely, then at least competently. In the meantime, maybe youngsters like Bell and Hanson will help fill the void offensively, while Glasnow, Kingham and Taillon will combine with Cole to form a dominant pitching staff that doesn’t require as much offensive support.

    Eventually, Walker, Marte, Cole and Polanco will have to be shipped out, too. But by then, maybe someone from the haul you got for Cutch will be ready to replace them.

    The point is, the only way for the Pirates to maintain their success is by keeping the pipeline stocked with young, affordable talent. And you can’t do that by falling in love with any one player.

    Cutch and Marte have gotten their one extension. Cole and Polanco are arguably next in line. But when those expire — or preferably a year before — you have to cut ties with them and move on.

    • Absolutely agree. It’ll suck having to trade away the homegrown talent…and it’ll hurt even more if the scouting department doesn’t do their homework and the return doesn’t pay dividends. However, it will be more hurtful to the organization to attempt to hold on to star players by giving them going-rate deals.

      It’s the reality of the economics of small-market baseball. Scout, draft and develop well. Sign talent to, potentially, very team-friendly extensions, and trade it to keep the farm system loaded so the process can be repeated.

    • Polanco isn’t going to get an extension before proving he can actually play. This site is hilarious. Half of the people clammoring for Polanco to get an extension and half of the people clammoring for him to lose his job if he struggles. All of you need to just chill and let things play out.

  • I would love to hear that we’ve signed Polanco and Cole to extensions, though.

    • lonleylibertarian
      March 2, 2015 9:23 am

      You will never hear of a Cole extension – he is a Boras client I believe – and he is not a big fan of extensions

  • I agree that it is not logical to focus on extending Cutch while he is still under contract for 4 more years. I admire the Pirates for being a financially responsible team; that helps keep ticket prices down so that a normal family can afford to go to a game. IMO all this talk (on the radio and comment blogs) about giving one player $25 million per year assumes this would not have to be subsidized by higher ticket prices.

  • Cutch may be the most significant player in Pittsburgh history and extending him should be on the table. The extension can take a variety of forms though so ruling it out is silly.
    If the extension was adding two more years and included a raise considering his performance – then you are rewarding him for his performance while enticing him to negotiate. Putting another few years on his control would look like $125 million for 5 years which shouldn’t be looked at as a particularly risky deal and would still leave Andrew with options at that end of the deal at around 34 years old.
    It may be something that could be considered a win win for him and the club. I’d also hesitate to toss Meadows name or anyone else for that matter as an option because you aren’t talking about a good player, you are talking about possibly the best player in the game – and that isn’t something you can plan on.

    • BB: I don’t know of “most significant”, but, IMO, in the same class with Pirate superstars Roberto Clemente and “Chicken on the Hill” Wilver Stargell. He is a very special player and from everything I read, a special human being as well.

      • Well emjay, honestly you’d be foolish to even put Stargell and Clemente in the same class, Clemente belongs with Kiner and Honus Wagner. Stargell, Parker, Bonds, Brian Giles, and Cutch would be in that next category with mazeroski and such about a rung down, then bonilla, vanslyke, jay bell, and jason bay on the level below that.

        • What about manny, tekulve,moreno,waner big and little,madlock ect.ect.,anyway my point is it’s a long and rich history let’s just be glad that all the pirates through the years were and still are Pittsburgh Pirates.

  • I agree with Tim, extending Cutch now is putting the cart before the horse. Let’s get a few seasons down the road and see if he’s still producing at MVP level, and if there’s a viable replacement in system before unnecessarily burdening the franchise with what could very well be a bad contract.

  • Extending or signing a position player to a long term big money contract in there 30’s is just as bad of an idea as signing a pitcher in his 30’s to a big money long term contract. I would love to see cutch in black and gold for the duration of his playing days, I’m afraid if that’s the case though we will have a repeat of twenty years of losing. Do you really want to see an aging cutch surrounded by a bad losing team? Not me.

    • Amen- Look to the contract albatrosses of Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols. The Pirates wouldn’t do this, and we should be glad they won’t. Small market teams do not do extensions like this, and we won’t either.

  • Yes, this is sentimental foolishness. Sadly star players leave when their contract is up. Just the way of sports, especially baseball. My 2 questions are
    Do we trade him at the end of 2017 and get some value return? Or do we ride him out and get nothing. What if we’re a contending team? Easier to trade if we’re not. Not an easy answer imo.
    2nd Q is who do we offer extensions to? Polanco seems to be the easy answer. Cole + Boras seems unlikely. Do we offer em to young pitchers like Glasnow and Tallion knowing how pitchers are so fragile and an unknown risk with long term contacts? Do we offer em earlier to get cheaper or wait till they are ore “proven” but the price goes up?
    Personally I’d sign them all as soon as possible and cheaper, but again not an easy Q with both risks and rewards.

  • Tim, I have to disagree with you while agreeing with all of your logistical points. Does it make sense with four years of control, No. Does it make sense before you have to pay top dollar, No. But the last thing you want is your superstar looking around the league at guys worth half of his worth making double the money. Yes, it’s the contract that he signed but you have to worry about his happiness. He’s the entire key to your franchise for the next four years and possibly more. You don’t want him watching much worse players getting more money and him making well below market value. There’s something to be said for his loyalty to the team, city, franchise and the game that he deserves to be paid among the league’s best.

    • Who says McCutchen is unhappy? He has said that he is fine with his current contract.

      Also, his contract is still going to be his contract, even with an extension. An extension would pay him starting in 2019. And he’s going to get paid either way starting in 2019. So extending him early really does nothing, except making it official that he’ll start making a ton beginning in 2019.

      • I agree that the Pirates should approach ‘Cutch with an extension that would take him through his age 35 season with an option for his age 36 season. His skills & work ethic translate to a middle-of-the-order hitter throughout that extension period. Braun and Longoria both have fairly reasonable contracts that highly reward the most productive years and then are lower in their declining years. Both also have extensive use of deferred money. Is he worth it? Run the numbers and make a case on what is happening in MLB today. He’s happy??? Did you expect Andrew McCutchen to say anything different? How much have we paid him so far and what Value, using WAR has he returned?

        TV Contracts are the next big frontier in MLB and the Pirates current 10 year contract expires in 2018 or 2019 – The worth to having a guy like ‘Cutch locked in long term makes a great negotiating chip. And those folks will not wait until 2018/19 to start running numnbers – the Pirates are a media darling – take full advantage NOW

      • Just yesterday the hosts on one of the MLB.tv shows were pointing out how little Cutch is getting paid. That kind of coverage has to grate on him at some point. Plus, Cutch doesn’t seem the type of guy who would take $25 mill and just blow through it.

        Given his recent column on the new Jeter site, if I were Nutting, I might well take the angle of wanting to help Cutch create baseball programs for inner city youths – and help him set that up along with a big bump in salary for 2-3 years beyond his current term. That’s a win-win for both the Pirates and Cutch.

        • Not a much good will in Philadelphia for their legacy players.

          • Are they booing Hamels and Utley?

            RAJ extended everyone for far too long and far too much. Right now we’re only talking one guy. And IMO, if the Bucs’ FO leaked out that they were willing to go $25M, odds are they think he’ll be worth $50M.

        • bucs: Excellent, excellent point about the inner city baseball programs – ‘Cutch obviously feels very strongly about the subject and would be a hero in that program.

        • Do you think Cutch sits around and watches all of the coverage about his contract? And if he does, do you think he cares? This whole theory depends on two things:

          1. Cutch being a guy who cares about being one of the highest paid players in the league.
          2. Cutch being a guy who would let his performance suffer because of things other people are saying.

          I don’t think either one is the case. This is just worrying about and fearing the unknown.

          • Tim – what purpose does it serve for the Pirates to leak an amount like $25 million? That figure is now in Cutch’s head regardless what anyone thinks.
            Do I think Cutch is the type who needs to be highest paid? Absolutely not. But nobody likes being the biggest bargain out there either.
            As I mentioned in the post preceding the one you responded to, I see Cutch as having the drive to do something important outside of PNC Park. More money might make that possible. And the Pirates could benefit from whatever Cutch does regarding the challenge he discussed on PlayersTribune.
            I’m not worried he’s going anywhere or will become a sourpuss, but this figure came out of left field and is quite unlike the FO’s MO. And it’s going to be the elephant in the room.
            If you want to argue about it more, I’ll be happy to in Bradenton next week…

          • More true than true can be, guys like cutch are very rare in todays world to say nothing of baseball, just glad he’s a buc.

    • I agree with Tim and wouldn’t even consider extending Cutch with 4 years of control remaining and having him locked up to his age 32 season. If Marte continues to play well or becomes the star he played like in Aug-Sept last year and Polanco and Meadows live up to expectations, I see no reason to tie up $20-$25 million a year in Cutch in his mid-30’s vs. using that salary to fill other positions of greater need when 2019 rolls around. As Tim points out, we also don’t know which prospect could be a breakout star outfielder in the next 4 years.

      As for the Rays extending Longoria, I think that was a mistake. It didn’t make any sense to me to take that risk of committing 7 years of relatively high salaries with 4 years of control remaining when they likely will have one of the bottom 5 payrolls every year. His OPS dropped significantly last year to .724 and if they didn’t extend him, they’d get to see his 2015 and 2016 production before committing such huge dollars. A $100 million contract for a 31 year old isn’t going to look like a bargain if he continues to decline and injuries crop up more frequently as he follows the typical age curve.

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