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March 6, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Clutching McCutchen

by R.J. Anderson

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PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Re-signed CF-R Andrew McCutchen to a six-year contract worth $51.5 million guaranteed with a club option for 2018 worth $14.75 million. [3/4]

Those of you who picked up your copy of the annual know that McCutchen’s comment reads like this:

Meet the franchise player. McCutchen finally earned a trip to the Midsummer Classic thanks to the Pirates' hot start. He does it all. He hits for average and power alike, has an idea at the plate and steals bases when he reaches, and he plays a premium defensive position. He even has built-in motion lines thanks to his dreadlocks. Pittsburgh should work feverishly to re-sign McCutchen before he hits arbitration after the season, otherwise the likelihood of an extension happening has to go down. Losing McCutchen after the 2015 season, or right as the other core pieces should be landing, would be a crime. McCutchen is everything you want in a building block and has some things you would feel greedy in asking for.

Crime avoided. After the Pirates signed Jose Tabata to a six-year extension in August, the rumor mill identified Neil Walker as the next in line. Pittsburgh’s aggressiveness in locking its young players up served as a recruiting pitch aimed at McCutchen, the hope being that the center fielder would decide he wanted a long-term commitment of his own. In the end, McCutchen came to terms before Walker, and the Pirates look all the better for it.

The easiest comparison is the one between teammates. McCutchen’s deal, to put it simply, is like the big brother of Tabata’s agreement. McCutchen is not only under team control for fewer seasons (two fewer, as it turns out) than Tabata, but the center fielder is guaranteed more than $50 million up front—Tabata’s deal maxes out shy of $36 million. Such is the benefit of being a star-quality player nearing arbitration years. McCutchen may have more leverage than Tabata did in negotiations, but that does not mean the Pirates are walking away losers. The opposite is true—Pittsburgh is getting a good deal due to the additional years of control and cost certainty gained.

On the field, McCutchen offers it all and something extra. Consistency is a concept often used in place of real analysis, but McCutchen has that, too. Just look at his low level of variance in a few key metrics; over McCutchen’s first three major-league seasons, his on-base percentage has gone no lower than .364, and no higher than .365. That isn’t to indicate McCutchen is done growing as a player—he isn’t—and his True Average continues to ascend (from .286 to .292 to .297). McCutchen’s improvements are likewise present in his Wins Above Replacement tallies, as Daniel Rathman noted on Monday:

Late Sunday night, word broke that the Pirates have agreed with the 25-year-old McCutchen on a six-year, $51.5 million extension with a club option for a seventh year worth $14.75 million. Considering McCutchen’s trajectory—he was worth 1.7 WARP as a rookie, 3.1 WARP as a sophomore, and 5.2 WARP in his third season—the deal seems likely to end up a bargain for Pittsburgh.

Now that Pittsburgh can relax about McCutchen’s future status, they can focus on which outfield prospect will eventually complete their outfield—or prospects, should the team choose to trade Tabata. Alex Presley is about major league-ready, although he seems better-suited as a fourth outfielder. Starling Marte is getting close to The Show, and Robbie Grossman isn’t far behind him. Then there’s Josh Bell, the mammoth second-round pick who could develop into a star. Oh, and Gorkys Hernandez and his fine piece of leather are still hanging around in the system.

The Pirates have organizational depth in the outfield, some stud starting pitchers on the horizon, and their franchise played locked up through the 2018 season. Pittsburgh is beginning to look a lot like a team on the up-and-up that might stay up once it arrives. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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