BRADENTON, Fla. — The agreement between the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen on a six-year, $51.5 million contract was more than two years in the making and is part of an effort by the club to lock up its core players to multi-year deals.
Sometime early in 2010, the Pirates began working with the agents for McCutchen and Neil Walker on long-term contracts. The talks went in fits and starts, with periods of intense negotiation followed by weeks or even months of limited contact. At the time, the Pirates figured Walker might be easier to sign. If Walker came to terms first, the team would try to use that as leverage in talks with McCutchen. It didn’t work that way, as McCutchen has accepted a six-year, $51.5-million deal. The complication with Walker is that he will gain Super Two status after this season, meaning he will gain an extra year of arbitration eligibility — a bit of leverage for the player to hike the value of a long-term contract.
Now that McCutchen’s deal is done, the Pirates will shift their focus to Walker. It probably will be pricier than they originally expected — Walker has never indicated he will give a hometown discount — but the Pirates will give Walker his big contract. It will be a win-win for both sides: Walker, like McCutchen, gets money and security. The Pirates will ink a marquee player, which will satisfy the fan base and (more importantly) catch the attention of potential free agents around the league as well as prospects in the Pirates’ system.
McCutchen is the fourth Pirates player signed beyond this season, and two others also could return on contract options. Last August, Jose Tabata got a six-year, $15-million extension. Clint Barmes is signed for $5.5 million. The Pirates will pay $8 million of the $16.5 A.J. Burnett will earn next year. The team undoubtedly will pick up its option for 2013 on Pedro Alvarez. There also is a $3.5-million club option in Rod Barajas’ contract, which is a less likely proposition.
Who else could be in line for a longer contract? The Pirates could look to the future with Alvarez, if they’re ready for another round of talks with Scott Boras. Charlie Morton, perhaps. He’ll make $2.445 million this season and has two years of arby left. James McDonald is still trying to establish himself, so he might prefer to wait and at least start the arbitration process. Casey McGehee is an intriguing possibility, but a longshot. He first must prove his performance dip last season was a fluke. Probably not Joel Hanrahan. He’s already making $4.1 million with a year of arby to go. Too pricey.