First Pitch: It’s Too Early For All This Andrew McCutchen Extension Talk

Three years ago at this time, Gregory Polanco was coming off a breakout season in West Virginia, with the hope being that one day in the future, he would factor in to the Pittsburgh outfield situation.

Starling Marte had just made the jump to the majors, and was coming off a rookie debut that wasn’t overly impressive, but showed promise for the future.

Austin Meadows was still in high school, a few months away from being drafted. Harold Ramirez was just coming off his first pro season in rookie ball, and far from being one of the top prospects in the system.

We could switch to the position player side and talk about how John Jaso was still a catcher and was a big piece in a three team deal which also involved Mike Morse, who was coming off a year with a .791 OPS. Jordy Mercer wasn’t a starter yet, and wasn’t even a guy who had a lock on a bench spot. I don’t know what Jung-ho Kang was doing over in Korea at the time. This was also right before the season when no one really knew the value of pitch framing, and Russell Martin was only valued for his .211 average.

On the pitcher side, there were questions about just how good Francisco Liriano could be, with no one expecting him to repeat the success of A.J. Burnett the year before. This was back in the time when Ray Searage wasn’t widely praised, and the Pirates could sign a free agent without the phrase being uttered “Ray Searage can fix him”. It was a time when people complained that the Pirates gave up a proven closer in Joel Hanrahan for a horrible reliever in Mark Melancon. Tony Watson hadn’t fixed his control yet, and wasn’t considered a setup man, or one of the top lefties in the game. Gerrit Cole hadn’t made his MLB debut, and Tyler Glasnow was just about to have his breakout season in West Virginia.

Outside of Pittsburgh, Cory Luebke was a promising left-handed starter with a 3.25 ERA and strong strikeout and walk ratios who just went down with Tommy John surgery. A year off and he’d be able to return mid-season in 2013 to get back on track in the Padres’ rotation. Eric O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in baseball, and one of the best lefty relievers, but about to enter a season where he’d have Tommy John, setting off a chain that led to him being a minor league free agent this off-season. Jon Niese was coming off the best season of his career, and Ryan Vogelsong just showed his comeback season in 2011 wasn’t a fluke.

So why am I bringing up this history lesson about what happened in Pirates-related baseball three years ago? I’m sure you can probably guess, especially if you think about what significant event might take place three years into the future. Or if you read the title. That would have probably been easier.

Last week I was one of the first media members in camp, and talked to Andrew McCutchen the first day, with the results of the interview in this article. A week later, McCutchen showed up in camp again, only there were a lot more media members present. And as a result, there was a “first day of camp” interview with the MVP. I opted out of this, deciding to chase down a few minor leaguers like Tyler Glasnow and Elias Diaz, rather than listen to the already tired discussion about an extension three years into the future.

I’m neither for, nor against a McCutchen extension right now. There’s too much time remaining to honestly have a hard stance, and that’s why such a move doesn’t have to be done now. In fact, the last extension McCutchen signed is just really kicking in, as the 2016 season would have been his first free agent year without that deal.

It’s great that McCutchen wants to remain a Pirate for life, and it’s great that Bob Nutting is saying the right things about that. But once again, we’re three years away from this being a relevant topic.

As noted above, a lot can happen in three years. Three years from now, people might cringe at the thought of a McCutchen extension. Or maybe it just looks like a no brainer. Three years from now, Austin Meadows might have already made a successful pro debut, and the Pirates might be better off letting McCutchen walk and letting Meadows take over. In fact, three years from now is enough time for a 2015 college draft pick we’re not even thinking about to break out and make the majors.

So much can change in three years, which is why all of the talk of a McCutchen extension now is very premature. A lot of it is fueled by emotion, and worrying about a future where the Pirates are without McCutchen after the 2018 season. Then there’s the aspect that extension articles — especially about the best player on the team — bring in readers, even if they’re way early. To be honest, that’s why I went with that article the first time. But this extension talk needs a disclaimer that it’s all very early, and three years is a lot of time.

Maybe in three more years, the Pirates will have McCutchen under control for the long-term. Or maybe they’ll go the Meadows route. Or maybe something we can’t even think about this year. The more important thing now would be enjoying one of those three years of McCutchen. Because it seems foolish to wonder if you’ll get to see McCutchen in a Pirates uniform in three years, all while speeding past the point where he’s in a Pirates uniform right now.

Anyway, Bob Nutting will meet with the team this week, and usually meets with the media after. I’m sure this topic will come up in that discussion, and I will definitely have the recap for business purposes. But it’s still going to be really early for the topic.

**The Pirates Prospects App is Now Available on Android. Download the app to get notifications whenever we post an article, along with the best way to view the site on your mobile device. The iOS version for Apple devices will be out soon.

**Gerrit Cole Throws First Bullpen After Dealing With Right Rib Inflammation. A good step for Cole getting on the mound. Check out the video in this article.

**Trevor Williams Working to Develop His Slider Into a Strikeout Pitch. The Pirates acquired Williams as compensation for losing Jim Benedict, and it will be interesting to see how he develops in his first season in the organization.

**Working With Searage and Cervelli Were Big Draws For Eric O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty was one of the best lefty relievers in the game, and one of the best relievers. He liked the Pirates for their ability to get pitchers to bounce back from down years like he had in 2015. A lot of praise here for Ray Searage and Francisco Cervelli.

**Pirates Notes: Nicasio and Lobstein Will Be Stretched Out as Rotation Depth. Notes from the weekend, looking at the rotation depth and the lefty relief situation.

**How Many Pitchers Will Wear a Weird Looking Helmet For Extra Safety? A few pitchers tested out the new safety helmets, which look ridiculous.

**Watch Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Elias Diaz From Today’s Action. Prospect video from this weekend.

**Draft Preview: College Pitching Dominates the Top of the Class. John Dreker gives an early preview of the 2016 draft class.

**The Indianapolis Pitching Prospects Impacted the Pirates Off-Season Approach. A breakdown of how the Indianapolis starting pitchers impacted the off-season approach. Also includes video on Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams.

**Matt Joyce Has a Shot to Be the Pirates’ Fourth Outfielder. The Pirates signed Matt Joyce last week, and he revealed that he was brought in with a shot to be the fourth outfielder.

**Pirates Notes: What Will the Pirates Do if Jung-ho Kang Isn’t Ready on Opening Day. A look at how the Pirates could handle Kang’s absence if his rehab holds him out for the start of the season.

**Pirates Focused On Cutting Down Strikeouts and Transitioning From Power to OBP. An interesting look at the transition this year, after switching from Pedro Alvarez to John Jaso at first base.

  • What dream planet to you people live on? Do you think we will A. give him 25 million a year for 5 years or B. He won’t get even MORE than that from some idiot team.

  • I am honestly surprised that so many here are opposed to a McCutchen extension, and the constant worry about his age and declining skills.

    Todays athletics have more training and conditioning then those of the past, yet there seems to be this mindset that after 31 years old, the body will rapidly decline. I for one do not buy into it, and to say it is too early reminds me of the Walker extension posts where it was said that it was too early to talk about an extension until it became to late to do so. It is my firm belief that had Walker been given an extension early on, it would have probably cost the team less then what they ended up paying through arbitration, and he would still be a member of the Pirates. McCutchen has opened the door for extension talks with more then a slight hint that he would probably sign for under what he could potentially get as a FA. And remember, there are no guarantees for anyone or any situation. Maybe he gets signed and gets hurt. Thats why you insure a player. Maybe his skills do decline. That is the risk you take, The reward on the other hand is that you lock up a quality player throughout his career.

    • Just….

      …no.

      For starters…insurance is harder to get and more expensive…so, now that that’s out of the way….

      In the post-PED era…

      Where’s your frame of reference?

      Let’s look at someone like Pujols…after Bonds, easily the best player from 2001-2010. 77.3 WAR in 10 years. 7.73 per. Then he hits 30.

      13.1 in the last five years….~2.6/year…oh, and that’s $100M for 13 WAR…with $175M remaining to be paid.

      Players get old…their abilities decline…that’s why there are no 60 year olds playing today. The rule of thumb is that it begins in the early 30s. McCutchen will be 32 when he looks for a new deal…someone will pay him $25M per for 7 seasons…someone is always desperate enough…it doesn’t need to be the Pirates.

      • see: José Bautista

        I can cherry pick stats too 🙂

        • I see your Bautista and raise you a Mauer….and a Sabathia…and a Jeter…and an A-Rod…and a Ken Griffey Jr.

          Ah, heck…and an Andy Van Slyke…just to keep it in the Pirates family.

          Skills decline…there are exceptions…but few.

        • Bautista is 35 and reportedly looking for a 5 year $150 million dollar deal. Curious. Would you sign that deal?

          When he was 29, like ‘Cutch is now, he signed a 6 year $78 million deal. You think ‘Cutch would sign that deal now?

          The economics of baseball is astounding.

  • While he is under contract for three more years, if they are not going to extend him, isn’t the best time to trade him after this season? Wouldn’t the Pirates get more for him with two vs one year of control remaining? If this is true, shouldn’t the Pirates make a decision to extend him or start fielding offers after this season?

    • Not after punting on 2016. You *have* to take at least one more shot with Cutch.

      Even assuming you want Huntington handling a re-stocking trade after the Bay disaster, one year of control for a guy like Cutch making so little money should bring plenty of talent.

      • True…

        Still so torn though…

        I think he’s going to be gone…so he’d have a heckuva lot more value at the ’17 deadline than in the ’17-’18 offseason.

        However, the Pirates should be in contention at the deadline next year…so, do you take the greater trade return and get an additional blue-chipper who could bolster the club for a half-decade…or take the lesser return and ‘go for it’?

        And…if you ‘go for it’ and happen to win, or get really close…is there any way possible to trade him going into his walk year? Or do you end up with a lame duck FA who’s going to get you a #39ish (Connor Joe) pick?

        I think the right answer will be known in retrospect, but, playing forward…it comes down to two philosophies…building a winning team that should have a better than average chance of making the playoffs…or…pushing all the chips to the center of the table, knowing that you may win–but you might also lose big in the long run.

        • I’ll say this…

          If the Pittsburgh Pirates *do not* continue putting competitive teams on the field past 2016 it’ll be due to a series of failures that go far beyond not trading Cutch at peak value.

          Conversely, it may be another 20 years until the Pittsburgh Pirates field a team with a player as valuable as Andrew McCutchen.

          I, personally, would never trade a superstar of his stature unless I absolutely had to. These trades almost never turn out as expected, and that’s before we even discuss entrusting Huntington with the duties.

          • Totally agree…

            I think our difference in opinion probably relates to the phrase “have to trade”.

            If he’s not going to re-sign…or if it’s not in the best interests of the club to re-sign him…I view that as being left with one of two options. Either he’s QO’d and the team gets a #30-#40 pick or you ‘have to trade’ him. If you take the pick…you’ve got the pick. If you go the trade route, there’s, at least, the option to see how somebody else’s pick(s) has (have) developed before you snatch them.

            NH has had some wonderful successes in his tenure…and some incredible failures. The Bay trade falls into the latter camp. However, if I had my druthers, a trade for 2-3 (partially) developed blue chippers would be better than one shot in the crap shoot of the draft. As bad as the Bay trade turned out to be…would you rather the compensation for Cutch was another Allie or Joe? Not and…but or…

            My philosophy is simple…shoot for 90 wins every year. Continually achieve that and, sooner or later, you’ll luck into something.

            • Ahhh, gotcha.

              Still think you’re leaving out the most valuable part, though; if he’s QO’d the team gets the draft pick *and* an additional 5-6 WAR season on a team at the peak of the win curve.

              You’ve suggested trades before when we’ve discussed this that made me break my preference, but unless a club blows him away with *quality*, not quantity, I still side with keeping him.

              I bring Bay up not because of the results, but the process. Huntington has never seemed to favor high end talent in trades, opting for a quantity approach. To his credit, the majority of valuable assets were traded during the “flooding” phase, but I’m still admittedly skeptical.

              • Totally see where you’re coming from…and here’s where I differ…

                Yes, the team gets 5-6 WAR by keeping him for ’18. I would hope…between Ramirez, Meadows, Osuna, and ?…the team would have 2 WAR ready to plug into the hold created by Cutch’s departure. If so, now we’re down to his absence being a 3-4 WAR deficit. With $15M in salary freed, I would think, hope, dream that would be placed back into the payroll to make up for whatever deficiencies exist at that point. If, hypothetically, it meant replacing a 1 WAR Mercer with a 3 WAR SS. Meh, now the loss is down to 1-2 WAR.

                In that circumstance, a trade wouldn’t have to yield much as far as immediate results to balance. Heck, an ML ready pitcher who could duplicate Locke’s 2015 pretty much means the Pirates haven’t lost a step…to that, you add the other 2-3 prospects who’d be coming along.

                Of course, I realize, my equation involves A LOT of maybes…maybe Meadows steps up, maybe the team uses Cutch’s money to sign a FA who produces, maybe the Pirates get an immediate contributor. Yep, that’s a lot of maybes. However, that comes back to the philosophy…if the team is guaranteed to lose him for nearly no compensation, I’d rather roll the dice on a handful of maybes and a couple+ prospects.

                As for the Bay trade…I absolutely agree. NH went into that, I believe, with the philosophy of grabbing a bunch of guys who were thought to be able to adequately contribute in time. Trying to plug four holes with one trade was…well…we’ll just be polite and say ‘ambitious’. I’ve read where he’s stated that move was his greatest regret as a GM and it changed his philosophy on trades…there weren’t specifics as to what it now is. We really haven’t had a chance to see what he’s learned as the Pirates haven’t moved a huge piece like that since…I’m definitely curious to see how aggressive he’d be.

                As I’m all too prone to saying, it’s going to be interesting. The Pirates haven’t had a game-changing, homegrown face on a winning team nearing FA since Bonds. So, how the Cutch situation is handled is going to be uncharted waters for the entire organization.

                Now, on a totally different subject…speaking of the above…I’m immensely curious how different history would have been for the team if the Pirates pulled the trigger on a Bonds trade as he entered his walk year instead of ‘going for it’. I’d be absolutely shocked if the Pirates couldn’t have gotten Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, and one or two more for him. But…that’s just me rambling 🙂

  • It is wrong to hope that SRod comes down with Plantar faciatis so we can DL him all season like we did last year with Lambo and free up a roster spot for someone more useful

  • …another day with no signings to report about- leaving us with only irrelevant topics to discuss 🙁

  • It’s also too early to say that Meadows or Ramirez will be ready to take over at some point. I know this is a prospect site, but how many of a team’s top 10 prospects actually become every day big leaguers?

    I can help to answer that. BP’s top 20 from 2010 (a year I chose randomly) included:
    Neftali Feliz, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Jeremy Hellickson, Ryan Westmoreland, Martin Perez, Kyle Drabek, Justin Smoak, Brian Matusz, & Michael Taylor

    The 2009 list included: Travis Snider, Neftali Feliz, Rick Porcello, Tommy Hanson, Tim Beckham, Chris Tillman, Lars Anderson, Brian Matusz, & Michael Ynoa

    That’s just the top 20, supposedly the best guys out there, and half of them didn’t become even average regulars.

    Fangraphs did an article last summer entitled 2016 free agents that could have been, including Cutch. Using a typical aging curve, they estimate he’d earn ~20 WAR from 2019-2024. What are the chances that the Pirates will find two guys better than that (not counting Marte) between now and 2019? How many prospects end up posting 20 WAR in their first 6 seasons?

    I know that projections are just projections. But fangraphs uses those aging curves for a reason: because they fit the average rate of decline of players. And I would trust a decline projection for an established player more than I would an upside projection, even for very good prospects.

    • His WAR total would change with a position change, and that seems really likely. Beyond that, aging curves arent perfect. Its an average, so you’ll get a high end and low end. What are the chances Cutch sits in the middle? Speed will decrease and hurt his range a bit, and his arm is already poor. Meaning he’s getting nearly all his value from offense.

      At that point, is 20 WAR at 20 AAV better than 10 WAR at league minimum with 18 million left to bridge the rest of that gap? Maybe, but maybe not.

    • Very well said, but you’re forgetting half of the equation.

  • What are you guys smoking? There is NO CHANCE they extend Cutch based on a myriad of factors—including: the salary he will command, his diminishing fielding skills (aka lollipop arm), potential replacements in the Pirates system and the reality of the Pirates being a small market club. How has the Joey Votto extension worked out? I mean he has played well, but his salary has hamstrung the team and led to a fire-sale.

    I love Cutch and he saved this franchise, but he is as good as gone. Be honest with yourselves, no deal will ever make sense for both sides.

    • While i overal agree with the sentiment, the Votto comp is really not fair.

      Votto didnt stop the Reds from spending, it was the combination of about 3 big deals that made them really heavy on a few contracts. Bruce and Phillips and Bailey making as much as they were while being generally average or worse struck harder than 20 million into an elite star.

      Id take the Joey Votto extension results any day, so long as we dont also start dishing out big deals to other non deserving guys.

      • Not sure this really refutes Zach’s point.

        Brandon Phillips is making $13m this year. Jay Bruce is making $12m. That’s roughly the going rate, even a bit less for a league-average player.

        If a club can’t afford to pay a couple league-average players *and* a superstar contract at the same time, then isn’t that the definition of being hamstrung?

        • It refutes the idea above that Votto hamstrung them really in any way. It didnt stop them from giving out money to other guys (and in some cases big money) nor did he provide poor value for his price.

          A club cant afford to pay market price for half its lineup and have that lineup be 24th in wRC+ and 20th in WAR. Hell, Phillips hasnt actually been league average on offense over the last few years.

          CIN can afford to do that, but they cant win due to how those guys are producing on offense. Votto being the only guy consistently being of huge offensive value. Votto didnt/isnt stopping them from really anything, its the utter lack of help around him doing little while still making fine money.

          • Ha, I *promise* you it’ll take a lot more than that to turn the Cincinnati Reds from a 65-win club to a contender.

      • The Bruce extension was a fine decision by the Reds. He was 23, it was 6/51, he was coming off a 5 WAR season and entering arbitration. In the first three years of that deal, he put up two top-ten MVP seasons.

        If Polanco puts up a 5 WAR season this year, the Pirates would be crazy not to make the same commitment.

  • Just as a counterpoint…while I don’t think Cutch should be extended…if it’s going to be done, I would say there is merit behind the idea of doing it now.

    Prices go up over time…locking him in for a seven-year deal will be cheaper today than it will be next off-season.

    As well, it allows the team bring the cost of the extension forward into these three years where he is extremely underpaid.

  • I’m confused – above you say…

    “I’m neither for, nor against a McCutchen extension right now”

    But the rest of the article seems to suggest you are firmly against an extension – at least at the present time…

    Personally I am hoping Cutch reverses his recent decline and puts up something like 25 WAR over the next three years.

    If he does that might be enough to get the Bucs to a WS at least once in those three years – if is not enough they have a very marketable asset that can be flipped for players and/or prospects at some point.

    As someone who has been critical of the Huntington model and low salary threshold part of me would love to see an extension – but if you believe in the BMTIBB and their approach their is no way you can fit an extension at anything like market value or even 2/3rd of market value into the team’s business model.

    • The rest of the article says it’s too early to make it a big issue right now.

    • His “recent decline” is one terrible month where he had a knee injury. Give him a mulligan and the other 5 months were exactly on pace with prior years.

      • ^This.

        • Even after that one month, once healthy, he didn’t seem terribly interested in doing much on the bases and probably is never going to be a positive in the field at this point, right?

          Bruce’s “decline” comment may have been hyperbolic, but I do think he’s still correct. Unless Cutch goes Mike Trout and becomes a monster in the power department, seems logical that we’re past peak Cutch.

          • It is hard to improve upon an 8.0 WAR MVP season, so yes that was probably McCutchen’s peak, but I don’t think he is going to keep losing 1.5 Wins per year.

            • Right, which was my point about hyperbole.

              We’re not going to see a decline that steep, but if his inevitable decline is starting from a 5-6 WAR plateau rather than 7-8 that obviously makes a big difference.

          • No disagreement that he is past his peak. But his peak was so high, the post-peak is still probably going to be really good.

            • Oh, still stupid good. I just don’t agree the total of his performance last year was the result of one month, I think we saw a different type of player, even when healthy.

  • My two cents worth: Pirates will offer Cutch an extension for all the reasons already cited and whether they are successful or not will come down to years and not $. I think the Pirates will offer 3 years and Cutch will want 5. 4 sounds like a compromise, but that sounds too simple a solution.

    • I don’t think there is any way, shape, or form that Cutch would want a five year deal and would settle for four. As a FA, he’ll look for 7-8 and probably won’t sign for less than 6.

  • Any thoughts on retiring 21 and the three game wildcard?

  • Would love to see Cutch finish his career as a Pirate but you have to be realistic, he will become cost prohibitive. I think the Pirates will move him and try to realize a haul of prospects that can keep them competitive for the future. It is the only way a small market team such as the Pirates have a chance to win.

  • In my opinion, it’s expecting way, waaaayyyy too much of Cutch not only to inevitably ask him to take significantly less than market value but also to wait until the end of his ridiculously low existing contract to make a decision. That’s not “sharing” risk, that’s placing it all on him.

    This is a decision that’ll likely require Nutting to negotiate himself. You almost always see heavy, if not complete, owner involvement in franchise-defining contracts like this. Nothing about the way Huntington/Coonely run this franchise makes a life-time Cutch contract realistic.

    The Pirates could probably afford Cutch at a discount if they believe in deferrals, but otherwise we all know how this will eventually play out whether the decision is made tomorrow or three years from now.

  • I am sure the Pirates will make a qualifying offer in three years

  • Good stuff, still a ton of time before we hit that bridge.

  • The Nuttings practice a certain business sense in all divisions of their portfolio, and the Pirates are no different. They will not extend McCutchen.

    • If Cutch is willing to go small market contract then why wouldn’t we look to extend him? Polanco hasn’t hit his stride yet and maybe he won’t. Not suggesting 25+M a year but Cutch also knows the Pirates cannot afford that and stay competitive. If they can meet in the middle i think that would be great. Great for the fans, the city and the next TV contract. Cole is not signing an extension. He hasn’t said he wants to stay, already shown he would by taking less than necessary and is with Boras. That ship sailed when we drafted him.

      • What does “the middle” even look like, though?

        I mean, it seems fairly likely that someone out there would be willing to pay Cutch through his age-38 season on his next contract, and $25m AAV doesn’t seem crazy. That’s an 8 yr, $200m contract right there and we may not even be at the “high” mark.

        • we already have him for 3 more years… at current rate. If we add 4 and 100M that would be acceptable i believe given his current stance. If it would go higher i step back. Should discuss this year to develop plan to extend or trade over the next 2 years.

          • That would be acceptable to the team, but I doubt it would be to Cutch.

            Unless he’s feeling exceptionally generous…and has a very bad agent…I don’t think he’s going to want to be negotiating his next deal at age 36.

            He’ll be an older FA when this contract expires…imma go out on a limb and say he’ll want a deal that carries him to retirement.

            • Exactly.

              If Cutch wants to be “a Pirate for life”, then it only makes sense for him to want a contract that reflects such. If he wants to be paid even somewhat appropriately for his value, then taking an extension that puts him back on the market at 36 doesn’t make sense for him either.

              Eric’s deal absolutely makes sense for the Pirates, but in my opinion *only* for the Pirates.

              • I’m not even sure the Pirates would see that deal as making sense for them.

                I’ve heard Huntington say that they wouldn’t pay one player more than 18% of the total payroll. I’m sure that figure isn’t 100% set in stone but using the 18% as a benchmark, if Cutch were paid $25 million, and $25 million represented 18% of payroll, payroll would have to be $138 million. I just don’t see them with a $138 million payroll in 3 years.

                If they were thinking of extending Cutch, now wouldn’t be a terrible time to do it because it may become even more difficult to do in the future. I think it would be awesome if they could do it and be as competitive as they’ve been. However I just don’t see them offering him any deal he’d accept that would permit them to keep winning.

                • Yep, this is why I mentioned that Bob Nutting would most likely be the one negotiating this hypothetical deal. It will take an ownership-level decision to increase payroll to the point of keeping Cutch making sense.

      • How small market do you think McCutcheon would go? How much of a pay cut do you think he is willing to take? Seriously. It boils down to that. You think he’d sign for 12 or 15 million which is what he’s being paid now? I don’t. You think the Pirates would offer him that after getting his best years for that? Maybe. I’m not so sure.

        It’s a team game but I think McCutcheon has contributed more to the Pirates turn around than any other single player. He’s the type of player you’d want on your team for life if it were possible. But the reality is that another team would likely offer him twice what the Pirates would justify paying him at the end of his existing contract. There’s nothing to suggest that the economics of baseball are going to change anytime soon to change that. So, unless you are okay fielding a team made up of ‘Cutch and a bunch of kids, has been’s, never were’s and/or reclamation projects after 2018, I just don’t see Cutch getting extended.

        McCutcheon is 29. He will be 32 when his contract is up. The average age of a baseball player is 27 and average age of an MVP winner is also 27. Though I absolutely think it’s likely that McCutcheon will be able to play at a high level into his mid 30’s it’s not reasonable to expect him to perform at the same level in three years, let alone 5, 7 or 10 years from now. I don’t even think it’s a given that he’ll be the team’s best player in 2018. By then Marte could surpass him. So could Polonco. Who knows?

        Cole is 25 now and Polonco is 24. I don’t believe that either will have as much of an impact on the Pirates franchise as McCutcheon already has. I don’t believe either could be extended as inexpensively as McCutcheon was on his first extension. I’m not sure either could be extended at all. If I’m prognosticating however I think I’d rather have a 27 or 28 year old Cole or Polonco in 2018 tied up for another 5 or 7 years than a 32 year old McCutcheon. Could be wrong in that but don’t think I am.

        I think it’s likely that Cutch plays out his contract and then is tendered a qualifying offer which he likely turns down. Not how I would write it up but how I see it happening.

  • I love ‘Cutch but I think it would be a better idea to try to extend Cole and/or Polonco if possible. Pittsburgh will never be able to lock up a player for life a la Derek Jeter without a substantial change in the economics of baseball.

  • I can’t discuss this subject logically. This is like Ben leaving the Steelers or Sid leaving the Penguins. I just can’t picture it. I want Cutch to play his entire hall of fame career as a Bucco and ride off into the sunset with a Pirate hat on his plaque in Cooperstown.

  • Why hasn’t anyone brought up the possibility that Cutch won’t be in the Burgh the next three years? I know 2016 is a given. If the PBC decides that an extension is not in the clubs best interest, Cutch becomes awesome trade bait after this season having 2 years of control still to come (2017 and 2018). He still can bring a good return if flipped after the 2017 season. The longer the club delays the trade, the less the return. Because of this I do believe the decision to extend or not becomes very “real” after this season.

    • The issue with trading Cutch after this season is Meadows won’t be available, at least not until the start of the season. You’d have to find a replacement, through trade or free agency, that could hold you over until at least June. I think that discussion hinges solely on whether or not Marte continues his upward trajectory and if Polancos finally breaks out. If those two things happen then yes, I could see them moving Cutch after this season and throwing another OFer out there to keep it warm for Meadows.

  • I think there is an argument to be made that it is too soon to talk about an extension, the argument would be something like the Pirates are going to pay near the free agent market whether it is now or two years for now. Also the amount of time McCutchen would be under contract is going to be roughly same whether an extension was signed now or later.

    Not knowing what will happen in three years is an unconvincing argument for me, it that were the case why sign anyone ever to a long term contract?

    • “…if that were the case why sign anyone ever to a long term contract?”

      In fact, that is the *exact* question in play. Practically speaking, this topic has nothing to do with Andrew McCutchen because if you don’t go long term on a player like him you’re never doing it with anyone.

      • I would agree. Cutch has stated he wants to stay, doesn’t measure himself by the size of contract, wants to win now and in the future and has already taken an under market contract in the past. If he wants 25M+ per year then that is out… if he could settle for 5 year extension at 100M then that would be awesome… would probably have to be higher though.

      • Excellent point.

        I see this more as an issue of how small market teams are going to function in the economics of baseball.

        Should they or shouldn’t they invest in longterm deals with ‘superstars’?

        Sure, if Cutch is open to something well below market value, the Pirates have to listen. It happens…look at Big Papi. But there’s no reason to assume that will be the case or expect Cutch to be so generous.

        Absent that…can a small market team pay at or near the going rate for talent? Yeah, they ‘can’…but there’s a whole lot of risk in that. Just ask the Twins who spent $17M more on their first baseman than Pirates did on Pedro last season and got nearly identical production.

        • Id argue the Mauer deal is still one a team should be willing to shell out. His age made that a better deal than 8 years to a guy already at age 30-31. Mauer tanked, but if i can sign a superstar to an 8 year deal and have none of those years come at age 36+, im in. Cant do that many times obviously but if Cutch hit FA at age 28 id throw 6 years at a solid AAV at him.

          • I don’t totally disagree. When Mauer was one of the best players in the game and the team was locking up only his prime years…it was a very tempting deal.

            My point though, is that it’s a very, very risky endeavor for small market clubs. Because, if it does go south…now you’re handcuffed to a guy taking up 20% of payroll and putting up 0.3 WAR.

            • I agree with you on this one.

              A team needs to be smart enough to know they’re not getting a superstar for the duration of any long term deal. The Twins were either wildly, irresponsibly optimistic to believe that they’d have superstar Mauer for any more than half that deal *or* they were comfortable admitting they’d be getting the early years at the expense of the later ones.

              The only way a club like the Pirates or Twins can pay that much to one player is if they have massive contributions from other arb/pre-arb roster spots. That, of course, is literally impossible to figure eight – or even three – years down the road which makes the *length* of these deals the risky part.

              If Cutch would go year-to-year, the Pirates could pay $20m-$25m for him. He won’t, though, which makes *guaranteeing* that high of a percentage too risky for any budget-limited club.

              • Agreed.

                The Mauer deal was a give-and-take.

                Yes, he gave up only his best years…but he took the third largest dollar amount ever handed out in MLB (at the time).

                To put that in perspective…that would be today’s equivalent of a small market deal guaranteeing > $252M.

              • Or they could offer to make him a partner, with a job within the organization for life.

                • Is that an option? Could the organization give him some sort of stake in the franchise?

                  Wouldn’t that be something…

            • Absolutely a risk and its why i think any 6+ year deal for a guy the age of Cutch (when he hits FA) is really poor.

              I think a 28 year old is another story. Still risk, but if the deal is 3-4 years of him still within range of his peak, and 2-3 years in decline but not steep decline years, its better risk. I like the Mauer deal, but it does show that any player can just not work out.

            • That’s what happens when you put a catcher at first base

              • Come on…in his prime, post PED-era, Mauer was right there with Pujols as a top hitter in the game…his position only made him more valuable.

                • No….he wasn’t. He had one year where he had both average and power, right before he got his massive contract. Otherwise he has always been a very Mark Grace-ish gap to gap hitter. He only has 1 season over 20 homers in his career. That does not put you anywhere near Pujols territory.

                  • Well, imma go out on a limb and say any guy who wins three MLB batting titles in his first five seasons is, in fact, one of the top hitters in the game. Now, you may disagree with that because he didn’t homeruns…but hey, that’s your journey.

                    • If you bring Pujols down to just his batting average and throw out things like OPS and WAR- then yes, you are right. But I know you are smarter than that and know that these things matter when you are talking about “top hitters” – few people in todays age can realistically argue that Wade Boggs was even close to an overall hitting talent/value when compared someone whom had a similar batting average like Barry Bonds over his career.

                    • In all fairness, I’d gloss over the Bonds analogy in a second because of PED’s. But…Was Boggs as valuable as Griffey Jr.? No. Were they both ‘top hitters of the game’ at the same time? You betcha.

                      Anyhu, I think we’re going off the rails. I interpreted your comment: “That’s what happens when you put a catcher at first base” as saying Mauer was only considered as one of the best players of the game as he was a catcher.

                      Just not true. He was an elite hitter. Was he as good with the bat as Pujols? No…never claimed he was. I simply stated he was in the same class as Pujols as a ‘top hitter in the game’. And…he was. His numbers would’ve played at any position on the field…they weren’t excepted or accepted because he was a catcher.

                    • If you change that to ” one of the best hitters for average in the game” then i’ll agree

      • well if he was playing plus defense and didn’t have a knee issue every even year in the last 6- I’d agree. Marte is a better player for a long term deal in space

        • Long term deal, as in one that lasts into his mid-to-late 30s?

          Boy do I disagree there. You sure as hell don’t want to be betting on speed and defense during those years.

          • No no, NMR, I agree with you. I didn’t communicate well there. What I was saying is- if his defense and health and speed are ALREADY eroding at age 29, what would it look like at 34? He isn’t showing strong signs of being a player whom will still succeed at that advanced age

  • I really don’t understand why this is even a discussion right now. I’m glad you wrote about this exactly. He has three years of control left and Austin Meadows hasn’t even had a full year in the Eastern League. If it plays out that Meadows continues to hit and Cutch will cost too much then we all know what happens then, but there’s no reason the media should be talking about a contract extension three years down the road when this team is competing for a pennant.

  • Tim, how dare you take such a measured, reasonable stance. There’s a time and a place for everything, but this is the internet for god’s sake! Where is my hot take!?!

  • If the DH is brought to the NL this becomes a much easier decision. Without the DH I do not see any way you work an expensive long term deal for an OF who already isn’t the best in the field.

    • It will be a cold day in hell before Cutch DH’s *or* Huntington spends that kind of money on a position with such little value.

      • I expect Cutch to have a better year in the field this year. I think the knee hindered him a good amount last year. I also think he should be a LF but the Yankees went through this with Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter who had deficient range at their high profile positions while being stars. It is a big player, agent, union thing where a guy signs a deal or is the franchise…and then how do you move him? Ideally you just have a sit down and say we need you to move and the player is ok with doing it. If not, Cutch isn’t going to volunteer to move and I don’t blame him.

        • I blame both for Cutch still being in CF.
          1. If Cutch is the Captain so to speak of the team & his move to a corner would make the team significantly better, then he should approach the team & volunteer.
          2. If a team can take Barry Bonds & tell him your moving to left because Van Slyke in CF will make us a better team, well then Hurdle needs to grow a pair.
          With that said Hurdle will never grow a pair & Cutch’s ego is to big.

          • Well Bonds moved before he was a star, but I see your point. Cutch- if he is the leader that people like Leo thinks he is- should volunteer to move- but he should move to right, not left. Polanco should go to left

          • You can never blame the player for thinking he is good enough to stay at his position. It is completely the front office and coaching staff’s job to initiate a move. These are players that have always been elite, they definitely are going to have an ego, especially when they are the franchise.

          • I think it’s all on the team. When have you ever seen a player volunteer to be moved, especially a franchise player? These guys have always been the best and it’s good if they think they are. I think Cutch is a smart guy and if you sat down and talked to him he would probably be reasonable. But the guy is just not going to concede CF.

  • Wow a three year Pirate retrospective without a Lambo, Snyder or Walker reference. A number of posters are going to be sad and blue.

  • I agree it should not be the most important topic of conversation at this 2016 ST, but I disagree that it is too early for the Pirates to seriously consider an extension for Andrew McCutchen. I have been on the “extend ‘Cutch” bandwagon for at least 3 years now on P2. I recently suggested an extension for $130 mil that would take him through age 36, maxing out at $23 mil in 2020 and 2021.

    That might be too low to be acceptable now, but regardless of whether an extension for ‘Cutch becomes a reality, it is imperative that we at least step up with an offer that the Pirates can reasonably afford, and one that takes into consideration the age factor that an extension will be for his age years of 31 thru 36.

    The Pirates are presently one of the most popular teams in MLB, and the most recognizable Pirate is ‘Cutch. Three straight winning seasons; 3 straight post-seasons. Attendance averages 30,000 per game/2.5 mil per season and those numbers are about 25% higher than just 5 years ago. He accepted an extension early in his career which has been called the worst extension in baseball. It set him and his family for life financially, but he has proven that he was worth much more.

    Also, the Pirates are hamstrung by a very low TV Rights Deal with Root Sports, but I think we are in the last 3 or 4 years of that contract and history has shown that broadcasters and teams start talking well before the current TV Deal expires. Not single-handedly, but primarily, he is the reason many broadcast companies will be in the market to sign the Pirates for 10 years.

    • This isn’t specifically commenting to you, but I always thought it was strange that people refer to contracts like McCutchen’s as bad and contracts that Tabata got as bad as well. It seems like if the player left money on the table, people side with the player. If the owner overpaid, people blame them.

      I never blame players for leaving money on the table though. In McCutchen’s case, he knew at age 25 he was set for life financially, even if he got injured the next day and his career got sidetracked. Players have passed up that opportunity and regretted it later.

      I think Cory Luebke is proof of why it’s best to sign it. He hasn’t pitched in three years, yet he made $5.25M last year and got a $1.75M buyout for this year. If he didn’t sign that contract, he probably would have made a very low six figure salary in the minors last year and probably that’s what he got this year. Plus his $3M salary in 2014 likely would have been at least $2M less through arbitration. I’m not going to assume he has been wise with his money, but he’s already made enough money during his career that he should be fine for life. Since so much of it came in the last year, I bet he’s been wise about his spending, knowing he probably won’t make anything close to that amount again.

      • You can find examples for for when these pre-arbitration extensions benefited the team and others where it benefited the player.

        However when you line them up, team comes out ahead in the overwhelming majority of cases. And when player comes out ahead, the team is paying $6-$12 million more than was likely given no extension, and even that is over several seasons.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-freddie-freeman-deal-as-a-market-correction/

        I’m not making any moralistic judgement but there is reason Boras tells his client to avoid these type of extensions.

        • I think some of the benefit the player gets is just knowing they are financially secure for life. If Tim wants to sign me to an extension right now, I’ll give him a better deal than I would going year-to-year

          • Correct. ; The Boras approach comes out ahead ON AVERAGE. But it screws a few players,who get hurt or simply lose it. If you are a player who can lock in $50M for 5 years via an extension OR alternatively, test the free agent waters and have a 60% chance of $100M and a 40% chance of $2M over the five years, the Boras approach would be to go free agent – since the expected value is higher. But for a player, the right choice would almost certainly be to lock in the $50M.

            • Really though?

              I mean, even $10m goes a HELL of a long way toward being “financially secure for life”, right?

              • It’s funny how people view $10M as a low number in baseball terms, but don’t put it into normal terms. I’ve read a couple times today about McCutchen being underpaid and someone else even saying he had every reason to gripe about his deal and all I could think about is how impossible it would be for me to feel bad about someone making that much. If he griped about the set-for-life deal he signed though, that would be insane. He’s getting a $3M raise this year!

                I’m not saying he’s not underpaid compared to what he could have got on the open market, but some people take it as the Pirates cheated him on a deal he personally had to agree to and sign. He’s signed for 3/41.75M from 2016-18, I think he will be okay, and the next generation of McCutchenites will be fine as well.

                • There is the issue where 4+ million of that is going to the government via income tax and somewhere around 1.5 is probably going to his agent (that’s a guess). Not that 4.5 is a bad number, but…..it’s not 10

              • It’s more the Mark Priors of the world who get stuck

            • These are pre-arbitration deals, no player is actually has a 40% chance of making $2 million in arbitration.

              The secure for life argument loses it salience once we get past the $5 million range.

          • I was thinking about signing you away at the end of the year. Is this comment considered tampering though?

        • Boras is selling his own book. He has a stable of top flight athletes that he represents, so the risk of injury is spread over all of them, sort of a “self insurance” policy. Boras maximizes his own personal revenue by persuading his clients to take on the risk of avoiding injury and holding out for the big contract later. Now from the individual players perspective he doesn’t have that luxury of spreading injury risk over multiple careers. So it may make sense for the player to sign early avoiding the risk of a catastrophic injury which would reduce performance and the size of the ultimate payout that might occur if he waited.

          • What is the incidence of catastrophic injury among baseball players?

            • In pitchers……fairly high compared to position players

              • How high is high? Cory Luebke is about the worst case scenario.

                I’d agree it would make relatively more sense for pitchers to consider pre-arbitration extensions, the trade off being someone like Happ gets $36 million in free agency, with his first season of an above average ERA in five years.

                • What difference does it make how “high is high”, if you are the pitcher whom is now broke and out of baseball. Any pitcher whom has rotator cuff or labrum surgery is basically done, or a shell of his former self. so if you want to pull the stats go ahead.

            • I don’t know. It’s not only physical injury that goes into the definition of “catastrophic”. In terms of the value of a contract the decline of skills from elite to excellent could be catastrophic to the guys wallet. That is actually a very hard question to answer.

        • sadly Boras isn’t cutting a check to these guys if they blow their arm out and are done. Boras won’t even return their calls at that point, which is why you need someone whom is unbiased to help you with these decisions, not just Boras whom can afford to miss a bunch of small paydays to hit the jackpots. These players are a commodity to him, and they just don’t realize it.

          • They also almost always have insurance policies in place so that blowing their arm or knee or whatever out isn’t catastrophic.

            • I have heard of teams insuring contracts. I suppose players could as well, but individually or through the Players Association? I would think that the premiums on an individual contract would be outrageous.

              • I’m actually doubting myself now…swear I read a few articles about this but I can’t seem to find the links.

                The way at least I remember it working was insured on a policy that would leave the player financially secure in the event of a career-ending injury, but well below the total value of potential future earnings. Essentially enough that it wouldn’t be worth a guy taking a super low extension just to have money in the bank in the event of injury.

                Again though, I could be confusing this with something else and can’t find the article I’m thinking of so take that for what it’s worth.

            • Very good point- I hadn’t thought of that. I wish I knew how some of those things were worded.

          • I don’t find explanations that are founded upon I’m smart and all these other people are fools to be very accurate.

            • whom are you talking to andrew? I wasn’t referring my comment to anyone, just stating a fact.

              • If your description of Boras and the way he operates is accurate why does he keep finding clients? Because they are stupid? If that assumption is pivotal to an argument it isn’t a good argument.

                • You are the one making assumptions….not me. This isnt’ a real complicated thing to logically deduce. He keeps his clients because the ones he makes money for, he maximizes it- and those players make a LOT of money. The ones whom have their careers ruined or don’t pan out…..how would you know if they fired him or not? How do you think Pedro feels right now when the Buccos brought up a extension a few years ago after his HR leading season and Boras shut him down? How much money is Pedro going to lose in the long run because of that decision…..

      • If owners over pay, whom are you going to blame….the player?

        • It’s basically that the owners/teams can’t win in the deal. If the player is underpaid it’s a bad deal for the player. If the player doesn’t work out, the team made a mistake. It’s rarely ever stated that the team got a great deal or the player got a great deal. Just find it funny how it’s worded most of the time, always finger pointing at the owners no matter what side it’s on. It seems like 80-90% of the time it’s worded negatively, when you could just as easily put a positive spin on it by taking the side of the player or team that got the better deal.

          And even look how you stated your question. Who are you going to blame? That takes the negative stance that I was talking about. I don’t blame anyone. The Pirates set McCutchen up for life and he got rid of all his money troubles at age 25. I can’t hate it from either side.

          • Jose Tabata? He got a great deal 🙂

            And it was a solid move for the Pirates to give it to him. Sometimes, things just don’t work out.

          • John: I stated that his extension has been called “the worst in baseball”. I drew that conclusion from an article in Fangraphs by Neil Weinberg in December. They listed some good and then some bad and Andrew McCutchen was the last of the bad, and I think the writer’s comment went something like if some of these others took the cake, this extension took the whole bakery.

            I stated that by accepting the extension he locked in his financial stability for life. No extension that does that for a player is bad, but the market has exploded around he and the Pirates, and neither can be happy about that. I think the Pirates honestly wanted him to be well paid, and probably gave him as much as they could manage at the time.

          • Thanks John…..just like giving up on a ballplayer and he turns it around. doesn’t matter about the ballplayers that your team turns around. Damned if you do damned if you don’t. The only consolation is every owner is making money.

  • Keith Kupferschmid
    February 23, 2016 6:50 am

    You forgot– or maybe the NL will have the DH so the Pirates could use all four– Marte, McCutchen, Polonco’s and Meadows.

    • Cutch would be too expensive to be a DH unless his knee fell off, and his speed is one of his tools so……

  • Man, and here I thought this was going to be an article about him wearing hair extensions…

  • Can’t believe a common sense article is followed so far by 5 common sense replies

  • I agree, Tim. The team needs to focus on completing the core around him, and winning him a ring or two. It’ll be a tough call in a couple years, but I’m not going to worry about that now.

  • I respect the heck out of what Cutch has done and think he’s the best man to put on a Pirates’ uniform in quite awhile. While he’s here, I hope he continues his incredible output. But skills decline and the expiration date is going to come…I’d rather not see the team’s finances hamstrung as it overpays out of sentimental foolishness. Some teams can get away with this, Jeter spent his entire career with the Yanks…and the last five years he put up 6.3 WAR for the low, low cost of $82.3M. The Pirates, obviously, can’t afford this type of a mistake.

  • Really, as a fan I want him to play himself into an unaffordable stratosphere the next three years. That would mean he stayed healthy, ripped a .900+ OPS every year, probably finished in the top 5 in MVP or even won another one, and hopefully brought a championship to Pittsburgh. Not to mention he will have all but wrapped up a place in the Hall of fame and made himself one of the top 5 or so Pirates’ ever.

  • As a long time reader I am much more interested in what diaz and glasnow have to say then.cutch at this point. So thanks for covering the other 75% of the organization.

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