Pittsburgh Pirates superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen is signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game, a six-year, $51 million deal that has four years remaining (including a 2018 option). If McCutchen hadn't signed that contract, he'd be a free agent after 2015 and likely receive a deal that would pay him $25-$30 million per season. Instead, he'll earn "just" $41.75 million from 2016 through 2018.
Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had a column reporting that the Pirates would be willing to consider a big extension for McCutchen:
"Andrew's been a critical part of the team," owner Bob Nutting said Wednesday. "I love having him in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, and I hope he (wears it) for a long, long time." ...
There are no active talks at this time. However, industry sources said that if the Pirates decide to open talks, they are willing to go to great lengths to keep McCutchen in Pittsburgh, even if the numbers approach the current salary stratosphere of $25 million-plus per year.
"If that happens, that will be something we'll talk about," McCutchen said. "Right now, I'm not too worried about it. It's nothing that I'm thinking about, really. If it happens, that would be great. I look forward to it if they do that."
OK, Nutting didn't exactly say the Pirates were looking to start talking about an extension with McCutchen. And, really, the Pirates are in a great position. They have one of the best players in the game signed up through his prime years at what will be an incredible discount, barring injuries. In 2018, McCutchen will be 31 years old. Maybe he would still have a couple peak years after that, maybe not. The early 30s are often the time when players -- even stars -- begin to decline. The risk-free move for the Pirates would be to simply play out the contract and get McCutchen's best seasons.
But there are reasons to consider an extension. He's the focal point of the team, a potential Hall of Famer and all-time great Pirates player. He and his wife are part of the community with their charities and bought a house in Pittsburgh. The fans love of him. He's a true role model. That stuff has some value although, as always, winning games is the paramount ingredient in keeping fans interested. Anyway, here are three potential ways the Pirates could approach this, the first being to do nothing (dollars listed in millions, in case you forgot how much major leaguers make these days):
As mentioned, Option A is the risk-free approach. McCutchen enters free agency for his age-32 season and maybe gets a $200 million deal. Robinson Cano hit free agency for his age-31 season and got $240 million from the Mariners. But that deal wouldn't be coming from the Pirates. They're not going to get into a situation like the Reds have with Joey Votto, where an aging player in his 30s would be eating up a large percentage of the payroll.
Option B is keeping the current contract and adding on four years at $30 million per year at the end, kind of a make good for the Pirates knowing they have McCutchen at a steal right now. There's some risk here but McCutchen should at least remain a solid player through 35 and he gets a big payday and gets to remain in Pittsburgh. But if McCutchen wants to maximize is earnings, there's not much reason for him to take this deal as he'd get a longer, larger contract in free agency.
Option C tears up the current contract and signs McCutchen to an $11-year, $247 million extension. It's not Giancarlo Stanton money, but remember that McCutchen is a few years older and the Pirates aren't going to do something crazy. (That's without getting into the particulars of Stanton's deal, which is heavily backloaded and includes an out clause.) There's obviously more risk here for the Pirates with more total dollars committed but the average annual value of $22.5 million shouldn't break the payroll and McCutchen basically becomes a Pirate for Life.
Obviously, the Pirates don't have to do anything now. McCutchen is happy and he's not the type to do anything except play hard for the next four seasons. What would you do if you're the Pirates?