Should the Pirates Pay Andrew McCutchen Market Value to Complete His Career as a Pirate?
Rumors of a significant offer in the works
Andrew McCutchen is now entering the final four years of his current contract with the Pirates, as he starts his seventh season with team that drafted him. With Andrew McCutchen set to become a free agent after his age 31 season, now is the time for the Pirates to begin negotiations on a new contract for their star center fielder. With rumors surfacing that the Pirates are willing to pay Andrew McCutchen 25 million per season to buy out his upcoming seasons in which he could potentially be a free agent, it appears that the team could be in position to sign a player to the largest contract in franchise history. With Andrew McCutchen approaching the conclusion of his prime years as an MLB player at the end of his current contract, there is some risk attached to signing him to another contract that pays him 25 million per season. Typically as a player ages, any holes in their game that they were able to cover up during their prime years, become more apparent in such a way that it effects their productivity. As a well rounded player who was displayed strong fundamentals from the very beginning of his MLB career, a further look at what Andrew McCutchen has been able to accomplish so far will help to determine whether or not the Pirates will get what they are paying for in this potential contract extension for the star center fielder.
Andrew McCutchen earned his first National League MVP award in 2013
Has Andrew McCutchen earned 25 million per season?
This off-season the Miami Marlins signed their star right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton to a 13 year and 325 million dollar extension. In his age 24 season, Stanton was able to put together the first season of his career where he was an MVP finalist. For McCutchen who did not make his MLB debut until age 22, it was his age 25 season in which he earned his way into becoming a National League MVP finalist for the first time. Despite the age difference between the accomplishments of the two players, Stanton's contract has established the going rate as 25 million per free agent year among young MVP finalists. Since becoming an MVP finalist for the first time in his career in 2012, Andrew McCutchen has gone on to put together three straight years as a National League MVP finalist. He accomplished the goal of winning an MVP award in 2013, but finished third in the voting last season behind Clayton Kershaw and Giancarlo Stanton. This means that the recent performance of Andrew McCutchen has earned him a market value on buying out free agent years, right around 25 million per season.
Can the Pirates afford a five year 125 million dollar extension for their star?
The Pirates probably have not yet brought in the revenue on a yearly basis to afford giving a player 25 million per season, but a variety of factors go into making this future commitment. If the Pirates take control of this negotiation by not undervaluing their star player, they could end up agreeing to a contract that pays McCutchen quite well for the remaining years in his prime. By renegotiating the team option on his current contract to pay him 25 million for that season as well, the Pirates could come to an agreement that keeps both parties happy enough to negotiate a lesser deal when McCutchen's prime years are coming to a close. With all the indicators pointing to the Pirates eventually being able to expand their payroll well beyond 100 million, retaining McCutchen on a significant contract could be a move that eventually pays for the contract with revenue to spare. Throughout his first six seasons in Major League Baseball, Andrew McCutchen has established himself as a once in a generation type of player who rightfully belongs as the face of any MLB franchise. Letting Andrew McCutchen walk away at the end of his current contract, could be the difference between the Pirates becoming a brand on a national level, or just becoming a somewhat successful MLB franchise like the Rays were able to accomplish with their rebuild preceding their breakout 2008 season.
The television contract will be a factor
A year after McCutchen's current contract is scheduled to expire, the Pirates current television contract with ROOT Sports is also scheduled to expire. The Pirates negotiations with Andrew McCutchen will be followed shortly by a renegotiation of their television contract. ROOT Sports will be pressuring the Pirates to get their star signed to a long term deal, in order for the current spike in television revenue to be maintained to the point where ROOT Sports can pay the Pirates a larger amount of money to air their games. With another potential long term deal for Andrew McCutchen upcoming, the fans will commit to the team by buying up season ticket packages since they will know the team is committed to paying their stars. When the stadium is consistently selling out, everyone in the area will be committed to finding a way to watch the Pirates. As a result the television ratings for the team could be at an all time high if McCutchen is paid to stay in a Pirates uniform for life, and the team is having success throughout each season he plays with the team. Everybody wins in this case. McCutchen wins by getting paid, the Pirates win by selling out and getting a larger television contract, while ROOT Sports wins by getting a record high in ratings for the baseball games they air.
What has McCutchen accomplished to get where he is right now?
After playing parts of six seasons in the big leagues, Andrew McCutchen currently has a total of 986 hits in his brilliant young career. This puts him on pace for 3,000 hits over the course of his career if he is able to play 18 or 19 seasons. Of course his pace will not always be distributed evenly throughout each season played, but his pace over the last three seasons allowed him to collect 551 hits over that time period. If the remaining seasons in his prime years stay on that pace or better, Andrew McCutchen will be in position to reach milestones that put him among the all time greats in MLB history. One factor worth noting here is that Andrew McCutchen has yet to reach the milestone of collecting 200 hits in a single season. He also has yet to reach a total of 600 at bats in any of the full seasons he has played, even though he has played in the most games of any Pirates player since he made his MLB debut in 2009. His walk rate over the course of his career has made it tough for him to get the at bats necessary to collect 200 hits in a single season, but he was still able to register 194 hits in his age 25 season in 2012.
McCutchen's walk rate puts him among the elite in baseball
Throughout Andrew McCutchen's six year MLB career, he has not once registered a walk rate that had him taking a walk in fewer than 10 percent of his at bats. This includes his career low in walk rate from 2012 season, where he drew walks in 10.4 percent of his plate appearances. Twice in that six season span, McCutchen has registered walk rates of 13 percent or better, with a 13.1 percent walk rate in 2011 and a walk rate of exactly 13 percent in 2014. Andrew McCutchen's 13 percent walk rate in 2014 was good for fourth in baseball behind Jose Bautista with a 15.5 percent walk rate, Giancarlo Stanton with a 14.7 percent walk rate and Jayson Werth with a 13.2 percent walk rate. McCutchen's adeptness at drawing walks is a skill that he has been able to establish consistently enough at the MLB level to stay among the league's elite in that category. With this skill he is able to add to his team's offense effort by not only creating runs with a higher on base percentage, but also giving himself the opportunity to create more runs with stolen bases. A significant portion of McCutchen's game relies on speed, but a further look at how he can contribute beyond his prime years will help to determine how much of an impact his speed actually makes on his overall contribution to the Pirates.
Concerns about paying big money to a player beyond his prime years
Andrew McCutchen's defensive abilities in center field are largely dependent on his speed that he uses to run down fly balls that some other players are not able to get to. Also throughout his six year career in big leagues, he has only once registered a stolen base total below 20, with that being his 2014 total of 18 stolen bases. With these factors considered, it becomes evident that some of McCutchen's contributions to his team rely on his elite speed that he currently possesses. If Andrew McCutchen were to lose a step, he might have to switch positions in the outfield while giving way to a younger player in center field who still might possess the speed that McCutchen currently has. A defensive position change would not hurt his contributions to the team significantly however, because McCutchen still finds a way to contribute at the plate in a big way. Even if age caused McCutchen to lose a step in the outfield, and some of his bat quickness at the plate, he would still be able to contribute with his natural ability to be adept at drawing walks. This might not even factor into the contract situation however, because if the Pirates take away the team option for Andrew McCutchen to instead offer him a five year 125 million dollar extension, they likely will not have to pay him big money much beyond his prime years.
A breakdown of how old McCutchen will be in each year of a new deal
With the team option currently in place, Andrew McCutchen would be playing in his age 32 season in the first year of what a potential contract extension could include. A five year 125 million dollar deal would have Andrew McCutchen at age 36 playing the final year of that contract extension. The possibility exists that the Pirates could negotiate a deal where they do not activate the team option, but rather pay McCutchen 25 million that season as the first year of a potential five year contract extension. Chances are either way the Pirates will be paying McCutchen a significant amount of money in one or two seasons where he sees some decline after his prime years. The work that Andrew McCutchen puts in could allow him to still be a very productive player in years where his production starts to tail off from the best years of his prime. Paying McCutchen a significant annual salary in a couple seasons where his production has declined from the seasons where he earned the contract that is currently in the works, is just the cost of doing business. The presence of a star like McCutchen even beyond his prime years will bring in the revenue that pays for the contract, to make it a strong investment overall.
Should the Pirates make this big investment?
The answer to this question is a definitive yes, as the star power of Andrew McCutchen will bring in the revenue needed to pay this potential contract extension. It would be shortsighted not to see revenue potential attached to a contract extension that would help to make Andrew McCutchen a Pirate for life. In the past, Andrew McCutchen has expressed a desire to play for one team his entire career, so it is in the best interest of both sides to get this deal done. With the Pirates being a small market team that does not want to end up with a bad contract on the books, the contract extension that is in the works likely will not extend McCutchen into his late thirties. A contract extension into his mid thirties should allow McCutchen the opportunity to be well paid for his recent spectacular efforts for the Pirates. This also will give him the opportunity to earn his final payday with the team with his performance at age 35 and 36 being an indicator for how the potential late career decline will play out for him. Ultimately the fact that this deal is being discussed, shows the commitment to winning from Pirates management with things changing dramatically following Bob Nutting taking over as majority owner in 2007.