Last season's National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, is entering the third year of the six year deal he signed prior to the 2012 season. With his 51.5 million dollar deal, which includes a team option for the 2018 season, just beginning to scratch the surface of the major money the Pirates will pay McCutchen, some question whether or not the Pirates will be able to pay McCutchen when it is time to negotiate another contract.
The remainder of McCutchen's deal will pay him $7.25 million this season, followed by years of $10 million, $13 million and $14 million, with a $14.75 million team option for the 2018 season that includes a $1 million buyout. With some of the deals tossed around to players above age 32, such as the one former American League MVP Josh Hamilton signed prior to last season with the Los Angeles Angels, which was for five years and $133 million, McCutchen could expect to earn in excess of $20 to $25 million on the open market, if not more factoring in the rate of inflation.
The star center fielder has previously stated he had no problem taking less money to stay in Pittsburgh, and that the additional money, once already in the highest or high tax brackets, isn't of major concern. But, with the recent situation regarding A.J. Burnett still fresh in Pirates' fans memories, it really can not be expected for an athlete to leave additional millions on the table. In order to keep McCutchen following the 2018 season, the Pirates will have to offer him either a four or five year deal worth between $80 million and $100 million just to get the conversation started, and for a player who will be ages 32-36 through the duration of the deal, the Pirates may not find it worthwhile to invest such a large percentage of their payroll into one player, even if he is the face of the franchise.
In addition, by 2019, Starling Marte will be first eligible for free agency after his age-29 season, unless the Pirates give him a similar type deal they gave McCutchen prior to 2012. Gregory Polanco will be at the end of his age-26 season and prospects such as Austin Meadows and Josh Bell will be at the onset of their big league time. In all likelihood, the Pirates would be able to replace McCutchen with another top prospect such as Meadows or shift Marte over to center. Either way, the team should be okay.
The Pirates could change their ways by 2018 or 2019 and become a team that spends in excess of $100 million annually, if their recent success turns into a sustained pattern for the remainder of the decade. However, this is highly unlikely. For that reason, Pirates fans may have to grow accustomed to McCutchen playing out the remainder of his career for a team other than the Bucs.
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