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March 5, 2012

The BP First Take

Monday, March 5

by Daniel Rathman

From 1986 through 1992, the Pirates enjoyed the services of a five-tool outfielder on his way to becoming one of the game’s all-time greats. But with two All-Star Game appearances and two MVP awards already in hand, the then-28-year-old Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh to sign a record contract worth $43.75 million over six years with the Giants.

Jonah Keri wrote last June about the parallels between the early years of Bonds’ career and those of Andrew McCutchen. Since Bonds chased the money in San Francisco in the midst of his athletic prime—one that ultimately lasted longer than anyone might have expected back in 1992—the Pirates have struggled to find a player with the potential to impact a game in as many ways as the young Bonds could. McCutchen brings a combination of power and speed, coupled with discipline and instincts, which parallel Bonds’ talents better than anyone who donned the black and gold in the 17 seasons between them.

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.

Since McCutchen (2.123 years of service time) did not qualify for Super Two status, the deal buys out one year of team control, three years of arbitration, and at least two seasons of free agency. It will keep McCutchen in Pittsburgh through either his age-31 or -32 season, ensuring that he will spend his prime with the Pirates, while protecting the team from the risk of an early decline.

McCutchen has raised his walk rate, tapped into his power potential, and improved his center-field defense since breaking into the majors on June 4, 2009. If he can find a way to cut down on the strikeouts, he has a chance to become one of the most well-rounded players in the league. As the Pirates inch back toward contention, McCutchen will be around to lead the way. On the heels of his first All-Star Game appearance last season, he has the potential to contend for MVP honors in the near future.

Symbolically, the deal means the world to a franchise that has not made the playoffs since Bonds left in free agency. It expresses a commitment both to returning to contention and to keeping homegrown stars in town. Perhaps most of all, it gives the team and its fans a chance to finally move out of the post-Bonds era and into the McCutchen era, leaving the pains of the past two decades behind.

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

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