Andrew McCutchen's contract extension by the Pittsburgh Pirates is welcome news to a beleaguered fan base. Now the young center fielder just needs some help from his teammates. McCutchen is just entering his twenty-fifth year on earth and has become the focal point of the Pirates franchise. In recent years, the Pirates have jettisoned their best young players when they became mildly expensive. This news certainly signals a change in the right direction. And judging by his growth as a player, the team got a steal.
Andrew McCutchen's play in 2011 was valued at $25.5 million according to Fangraphs.com. And we still haven't seen the best of McCutchen by a long shot. He improved his play in center and garnered positive metrics for his defense for the first time in his career. He is only going to get better. McCutchen is also improving his power numbers. His ISO was the highest of his career and included 23 homers, seven more than his previous high. The extra power came at a price as his strikeout rate also increased and his 7.9 percent swing and miss rate was the highest of his career. McCutchen has always had good plate discipline and there is no reason to believe that he can continue to improve his power numbers while getting his strikeout rate back to previous levels.
The problem is that McCutchen needs to get some help from his teammates. Besides McCutchen, only Neil Walker produced a WAR higher than 1.9 (Walker finished with 3.0 WAR). With an exception nod to Walker, McCutchen has been an offensive island in the last three seasons. According to Baseball-reference.com, the Pirates accumulated a grand total of 8.2 WAR last season. This was the fifth lowest in all of baseball ahead of only the Twins, Rockies, Mariners and Athletics. McCutchen accounted for 67 percent of his team's position player value. But this is actually an improvement. In 2010, the Pirates shockingly had a WAR value of -3.9. This was despite McCutchen's 4.0 WAR valuation.
The extension earns McCutchen a bump in pay in 2012, his last pre-arbitration year, but likely will cost him money and save the Pirates money once he hit his arbitration years starting in 2013. And now, the Pirates have the stability in knowing that McCutchen won't walk away in 2016 when he is eligible for free agency. The first two years of that status are now covered, three years if you include the 2017 option. The deal ensures that McCutchen's peak years will be as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
This is a great day for Pirate fans and a great day for baseball in general. Andrew McCutchen will be the core the Pirates build upon. All the Pirates need right now is to get the young man some help.