First Pitch: Team Friendly Deals

The extension that Jose Tabata signed last off-season was an incredibly team friendly deal. The Pirates locked the young outfielder up through the 2019 season. He will make $4.5 M or less in the next five years. The extension bought out three free agent years. However, all three are option years with $250 K buyouts. If Tabata lives up to expectations, the contract will be a steal, and the free agent years — $6.5 M, $7.5 M, and $8.5 M respectively — will be incredible values. If Tabata doesn’t improve on his 2011 numbers, at worst he will end up as a slightly expensive but very strong fourth outfielder, and the Pirates will have an inexpensive way out of his free agent years.

The deal is incredibly team friendly, locking a young player up for the long term, buying out control of multiple free agent years, and all at a low cost.

Andrew McCutchen’s extension is different than Tabata’s deal in many ways. There’s a lot more guaranteed money. Two of the three free agent years are guaranteed. And the heavy lifting of the deal starts in 2014, rather than Tabata’s deal, where any heavy lifting would only take place if his options were picked up.

At first glance it would appear that Tabata’s deal is extremely team friendly, while McCutchen’s deal is more reasonable. But you could make a case that McCutchen’s deal is equally team friendly, if not even more team friendly than Tabata’s deal.

It all comes down to the risk with the two players. Andrew McCutchen is currently a rising star. You could argue that he’s already a star, pointing to his 5.7 WAR in 2011, which tied for 27th in the majors. If McCutchen doesn’t improve on his numbers from his first three years in the majors, the Pirates get value on the deal. The only reason they wouldn’t pick up his 2018 option is if he seriously regresses between now and then, or has a major injury. If he improves on his early career numbers, the Pirates will have one of the best players in the game under team control at an incredible rate, especially when you consider that McCutchen would probably cost $20 M or more as a free agent.

There’s more risk involved with Tabata. He really isn’t established in the majors. We’ve seen some flashes of strong play, but nothing consistent like we’ve seen out of McCutchen. Tabata would need to improve to justify picking up his option years. He probably needs to improve to avoid his 2014-2016 salaries looking to be a bit on the expensive side.

Yes, McCutchen is making more than Tabata, which gives the initial impression that Tabata’s deal is more team-friendly. But McCutchen is also more of a known commodity. There’s less risk involved, and the Pirates aren’t waiting on McCutchen to realize his potential. The only thing they’re waiting on with McCutchen is for him to take the next step and become one of the top players in the game. That would be the icing on the cake, but even without that step, McCutchen is worth his deal. Tabata’s deal is more on faith that he will take the step towards being a strong starting option. If he doesn’t improve on his current numbers, his deal probably won’t look like much of a steal in a few years, even though the numbers are low.

Both deals are great for the Pirates. They’re the types of deals the team needs to make. But I think we need to recognize that “team friendly” is not synonymous with “low salary”. I would argue that McCutchen’s deal is even more team friendly than Tabata’s deal, just because of what McCutchen has already accomplished in his career.

Links and Notes

**McCutchen’s deal is all about the long term impact.

**I watched Luis Heredia and Stetson Allie throw live batting practice at Pirate City today. Videos of each can be seen by clicking their names. I also watched the two long toss in the outfield prior to their outings. Two observations came to mind. The first was that you probably won’t find a better combination of arm strength than those two. The second? You probably won’t see more balls thrown away during long toss than you will when watching those two. Both have great arms, but also have some control issues to work on. That’s mostly because, despite the hype and the big bonuses, both are raw.

**From Sunday night, and lost immediately in all of the McCutchen news, my feature on the Harrison brothers.

**The Pirates won their first Spring Training game of the season.

**Alex Presley is one of several Pirates who will have the green light on the bases this season.

**Here’s how the 2012 draft prospects did in the last week.

**Jim Callis of Baseball America released some additional information on the top 100 prospects, noting the high and low votes for each player listed. Gerrit Cole, who finished 11th overall, was rated as high as 10th and as low as 16th. Jameson Taillon, who was rated 15th, was as high as 9th and as low as 25th. Josh Bell, the 60th best prospect on the list, was as high as 28th and as low as 84th. Starling Marte, who finished 73rd, was as high as 63rd and as low as 109th.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.

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