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A lifetime contract for the NL MVP?

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SOUTH HILLS – Andrew McCutchen‘s contract is perhaps the best in baseball. The reigning NL MVP enters his Age 27 season under club control over the next five seasons, assuming the Pirates pick up his $18.5 million option in 2018. The Pirates control McCutchen through his prime at rates that are far below market value. Club-friendly deals aren’t always friendly due to injury and performance regression, but when they are friendly, they give clubs tens of millions of dollars of surplus value.

McCutchen by year:

Year     Salary                  WAR projection    Market value (based upon $5.5 million per WAR)

2014: $7.46 million      6.8                             $37.4 million

2015:  $10.2  million     6.7                            $36.8 million

2016:  $13.2 million      6.4                             $35.2 million

2017:  $14.2 million      6.3                             $34.6 million

2018:  *$14.5 million       6.0                           $33    million

TOTAL $59.5 million      32.2 WAR               $177 million

 

That’s $117 million in surplus value over five years. Pretty incredible value if he stays healthy. That’s three years of free agency bought out by the Pirates, that might have cost $90 million on the open market.

 

McCutcthen’s contract can really be appreciated as in the context of the Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury deals, and the Mike Trout contract extension rumors.  And the McCutchen contract has now supplanted Evan Longoria‘s as the most club-friendly in the game, I think.

 

But this is where the Longoria comparison gets interesting. With four guaranteed years left on his contract – like McCutchen has remaining – Tampa and Longoria added a six more years and $100 million to the deal late in 2012. The contract will keep Longoria as a Ray for perhaps his entire career and at least through his Age 36 season.

 

Said Longoria at the time of the signing: “I always wanted to be kind of a benchmark player … the guy that you could think about or associate with the organization,” Longoria said. “My goal from Day 1 was to be the first player that played their whole career here, to be the first guy that came into the organization and went out in the organization, and played all the years in between. There’s no better place for me.”

 

Could McCutchen and the Pirates benefit from a similar commitment?

 

On the surface, there’s little incentive for the Pirates to consider this. They control McCutchen through his prime, through his Age 31 season. But on the other hand what would it mean to have a “benchmark,” face-of-the-franchise for a decade and a half? What would it mean to double-down on a discounted contract with McCutchen? Even if it’s five-year, $100 million extension — if McCutchen follows a Carlos Beltran career arc and ages gracefully it would be a bargain. Moreover, what would that commitment mean to a fanbase? What might that mean in future ticket sales and TV ratings, ect? What is the value in having an iconic player for an extended period? Some of the value might be tangible, some intangible. Of course if McCutchen goes Grady Sizemore on the Pirates it would be  a disaster.

 

McCutchen is so far from free agency he might have some incentive to lock up a nine-figure deal. The Pirates? Less incentive I would imagine.

 

It’s unlikely to happen, sure. But it’s worth noting that the man McCutchen supplanted with having the most club-favorable deal in the sport didn’t wait for free agency, he didn’t wait to test the market, he doubled down with the club. Longoria could be a one-uniform, one-city, iconic player. There’s a value in that. And as much as we like to measure everything around here I’m not sure we can measure that.

 

– TS

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