During the opening weeks of Spring Training, the Pittsburgh Pirates made one of the best moves, if not the best move, we’ve seen from this management group. I’m not talking about the deal that brought A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh in the first week of camp. I’m talking about the extension given to Andrew McCutchen.
Can you imagine if McCutchen would have put up the season we’re seeing now, without an extension? McCutchen signed for six years and $51.5 M guaranteed, with an option year that could make the total value of the contract worth $65 M over seven years, or an average of just over $9 M a year. And that number is looking like a steal as McCutchen makes a strong MVP campaign in his third full season in the majors.
So how much would his extension have been had the Pirates waited one more year? Here’s an incredibly simplistic forecast, using his WAR, his value, and the figures we have from his current deal. It’s probably not going to be extremely accurate, but it should give us an idea of what an extension would have cost if the Pirates waited a year. To keep things simple, I’m assuming McCutchen would still be extended through the 2018 season, which means his hypothetical post-2012 extension would be for five years and an option, rather than six years and an option. We’re also going to assume the option year is picked up in each example.
First, let’s get some sort of base figure for McCutchen’s current deal. We don’t have much to go on for McCutchen’s value prior to the deal. He put up a 3.5 WAR in two thirds of a season in 2009. In 2010 he had a 3.7 WAR. In 2011 he improved to a 5.7. If we take the mid-point of the two full-seasons, that gives us a 4.7 WAR per year.
Forecast that 4.7 WAR over the length of McCutchen’s contract, multiply it by $5 M a win, and you get $164.5 M in value from McCutchen from 2012-2018.
Assuming the option is picked up, McCutchen’s seven year, $65 M deal would pay him 39.5% of his total value to the team over the length of the deal. Keep that 39.5% figure in mind for the next step.
Now let’s try and figure out what McCutchen’s WAR would be if we were doing the same calculations after this season. To keep it fair, I’m only going to use the previous two seasons, which would be 2011 and 2012. McCutchen is putting up unreal numbers this year, to the point where his full season WAR would be over 10. To keep things more realistic, let’s set his total WAR this year to 7.7. This also keeps it simple, as it sets a mid-point of 6.7 between 2011 and 2012.
At a 6.7 WAR per year, McCutchen’s total value from 2013-2018 would be $201 M, using the $5 M per win figure. If we keep the same standards as before, and give McCutchen 39.5% of his total value, that amounts to a deal worth $79.42 M.
That deal would only be $14.42 M more than if he signed a year earlier. But keep in mind that the deal is for six years, rather than seven. His average annual salary would be $13.24 M over six years, which is an increase over the current average of $9.29 M a year. His average per year from 2013-2018 in his current deal is $10.5 M.
Again, that’s probably not completely accurate, but it’s probably on the mark. My focus was to show what kind of increase he could see, rather than trying to nail down an exact figure. McCutchen’s deal would have always been lower than you’d expect due to his three arbitration years.
I think there could have also been a risk of McCutchen not signing a long term deal in that scenario. His situation this year is a lot different than it was last year. He was putting up good numbers last year, but there’s a difference between good numbers and MVP numbers. Without the extension, McCutchen might have been a risk to go year to year in his arbitration years, aiming to get a massive payday sooner. He wouldn’t have been the first star to take that path either.
The Pirates made the deal just in time. It’s looking like one of the best contracts in baseball already, with the way McCutchen is performing this year.
Oh, and just for fun, McCutchen’s trade value at the deadline this year (using his 6.7 WAR) is $150.7 M. I don’t even think there’s an entire farm system in baseball that has that type of value. That would almost be worth the top five prospects in baseball (Dylan Bundy, Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, Taijuan Walker, and Danny Hultzen, per Baseball America’s mid-season rankings). Again, just for fun, and to illustrate the value. Don’t kill me for mentioning the word “trade” and McCutchen in the same sentence.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates beat the Rockies 6-2.
**Pirates Notebook: Extra Time Pays Off For Bedard; McCutchen and Walker Stay Hot.
**Prospect Watch: Kingham Pitches a Gem, Marte Strikes Out Three Times.