SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Remember when Evan Longoria signed a nine-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays before he took a major league at bat? It was the most club-friendly and undervalued contract in the sport …. until he was surpassed last season by Andrew McCutchen (and also Paul Goldschmidt).
To understand the bargain that is McCutchen, let’s go Ross Perot and introduce a chart. The following is McCutchen’s actual remaining salary (including the 2018 option), his projected Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs.com projections, and his true market value.
Year Actual salary Projected WAR Market value ($6 million per WAR)
2015 $10 million 6.7 $40.2 million
2016 $13 million 6.4 $38.4 million
2017 $14 million 6.3 $37.8 million
2018 $14.7 million 6.0 $36.0 million
TOTAL $51.7 million 25.4 $152.4 million
If McCutchen maintains health and superstar-level production through 2018 he will produce a whopping $100 million in surplus value over the last four years of his contract. Yes, that’s good living, Pirates. (Surplus value is real wages subtracted from market value).
The contract is a key reason why the Pirates have produced wins at the second most efficient rate in the sport.
I wrote a very, very similar post as today’s nearly a year ago, and I bring up the subject again today because Rob Biertempfel caught up with Pirates owner Bob Nutting yesterday in Bradenton. Nutting was asked about the idea of extending McCutchen … again.
“I love having him in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, and I hope he (wears it) for a long, long time,” Nutting said.
This is where the other interesting parallel between Longoria and McCutchen begins.
Is the Evan Longoria contract a model for the Pirates and McCutchen?
In 2012, when Longoria was 27 and in the midst of his extremely undervalued contract, four years from free agency, when the Rays approached him with another contract extension. The Rays tacked on another eight years and $122 million to the Longoria deal. The second extension is not going to be the extremely undervalued deal like Longoria’s first contract extension, but because Longoria was so far from free agency he did offer the Rays another discount – if he remains healthy and productive. He did trade some more potential earnings for security. It also could keep Longoria in one jersey for his career.
Guess who is four years from free agency this spring?
If ever the Pirates wanted to try and extend McCutchen again into something of a discount, into something of a lifetime deal, now is the time, now is when they have leverage.
No matter what he says, McCutchen has to have some regret about trading dollars for security. Look at the contracts being signed? There is also the fear of the unknown, the fear he could go all Grady Sizemore before he gets his first shot at free agency. The Pirates could capitalize on this. But it will be a nine-figure investment, the first in club history.
The Pirates should have a lot more cash in 2020 when they will have a new local cable TV agreement. So if the Pirates sign McCutchen today to a Jacoby Ellsbury-type extension – seven-year, $153 million deal – its relative value would depreciate as more cash rolls in. Moreover, McCutchen is an elite athlete who takes excellent care of his body. He could very well have a Carlos Beltran like grace about his aging (but even Beltran hasn’t been elite since Age 31).
So Nutting could extend McCutchen. But should he?
There is a strong data-based argument to make that they shouldn’t. The Pirates already control McCutchen through his prime, through his Age 31 season. In the post PED era, players begin to decline in their early 30s. So why pay a player in decline nine figures?
No player is immune to decline. When decline begins, and how severe its slope, is nearly impossible to predict. Even though McCutchen is at the height of his powers he will not always be.
Excellent point from Charlie Wilmoth today:
Remember how invincible Ken Griffey Jr. seemed after his age-27 season? Not asking for any particular reason. http://t.co/WoquyAk5Fg
— Bucs Dugout (@BucsDugout) February 26, 2015
Griffey Jr. only produced one season of 2 plus WAR after his Age 30 season. Pretty incredible.
(Griffey Jr. and Albert Pujols‘ careers should be included in the small print of any lengthy contract into a player’s 30s a club is considering).
Of course, there’s a counter-argument to that argument, one based largely in emotion, that notes McCutchen is perhaps the most important Pirate since Clemente. He is the face of the franchise, an iconic symbol of the franchise’s rebirth.
What is the cost in letting him walk away?
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