How Can the Pirates Show They’re Committed to Winning?

by Jason Epstein

. . . other than by winning?

Has anyone noticed that the best center fielder in the game may play in, of all places, Pittsburgh? Yup, I am referring to Andrew McCutchen, the charismatic, five-tool 24-year-old who is making a measly $452,500 playing for the habitually hapless Pirates.

Just how good is McCutchen? According to a FanGraphs leaderboard of regular center fielders encompassing the 2009–10 seasons, McCutchen ranks first in park and league-adjusted runs created (wRC+), second in on-base percentage (OBP), and sixth in wins above replacement (WAR).

In other words: pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Writing in Beyond the Boxscore, Dave Gershman offers a recommendation to the Bucs front office:

If the Pirates haven’t already considered locking up their young superstar they should certainly do so now. Andrew McCutchen continues to impress the baseball world day after day it seems. On a team that many believe isn’t that far from being competitive, it’s extremely crucial that McCutchen stay in black and gold.

As Dave Golebiewski of the Duquesne Duke explains:

Rather than potentially watching McCutchen’s salary soar through arbitration each winter, the Pirates should try to sign their star to a long-term deal right now. Doing so would give the club cost certainty. Also, these types of deals typically buy out a few years of free agency, meaning McCutchen would be in a Pirates uniform past 2015. 

Approaching McCutchen’s agent on this issue would hardly be precedent-setting. Gershman compares McCutchen to another talented center fielder, 27-year-old  Denard Span, who the Twins inked to a $16.5 million contract over five years in March 2010. And while Minnesota’s payroll is nearly $70 million higher than Pittsburgh’s, another small-budget franchise, the Rays, have received generally positive reviews for locking up several young players well into their free-agent years, most recently pitcher Wade Davis.

More importantly, signing McCutchen to a long-term contract would show a desperate fan base — one which last saw a winning season during the George Herbert Walker Bush administration — that team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington are committed to building a winner around a superior player with several prime seasons still to come.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.