It’s been an exciting week in Pittsburgh. When was the last time you could say that the Pirates were the biggest spenders in a given week? After spending over $17 million on the amateur draft inking two of the top-ten prospects, the team went and started handing out contract extensions to younger players on the major-league roster.
On Saturday, the team inked outfielder Jose Tabata to a contract extension that could potentially keep him in a Pirates uniform through the 2019 season. The agreement buys out all of Tabata’s arbitration years and carries affordable team options on his first three free-agent years. The contract is incredibly team-friendly (details here) and very cheap, especially if Tabata lives up to his potential. The team is reportedly close to inking second baseman Neil Walker to a similar contract, as well.
By locking up these two young players to long-term, team-friendly deals the team is beginning to set itself up to contend in the future when all of the top-prospects in the organization (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Stetson Allie, etc.) are ready to contribute to the big-league club. But is there a deeper meaning behind these deals than locking up young talent? You bet your rear that there is, and that meaning is Andrew McCutchen.
According to the rumor mill, talks have stalled between McCutchen and the club. ‘Cutch wants to play for a winner, and deservedly so. At 24, he’s arguably the best center fielder in the NL. He’s posting better numbers than Barry Bonds was at this point in his career; coincidentally, he’s also the most talented player to pass through Pittsburgh since Bonds. The Pirates don’t want to hear this, but with every day that passes, the price tag on McCutchen gets a little higher.
What the team needs to avoid is losing ‘Cutch to a big-market club in a couple years (again, just like Bonds). The organization took a couple huge steps this past week to shed the “cheap” label that has been stuck to it for so long, but losing a player of McCutchen’s caliber would make everything that has happened this week seem like a waste of time. Because of this, I can assure you that the team is using the extensions to Tabata and Walker as a tool to help keep McCutchen in the city for a long time.
It’s an approach you don’t often see teams take, signing other players in order to entice the marquee player to re-up his deal. But it’s one approach the Pirates have to take to have a shot at McCutchen. Neither side is stupid; both know the Pirates aren’t able to give him fair-market value, not in their small market. The team isn’t alone in that department — Milwaukee and Prince Fielder is another great example — so the organization is being proactive and fighting to re-sign their marquee player four years in advance at a “home town discount.” When the team was flying high through June and July, McCutchen was having a blast. He got a taste of winning and now he wants more. Locking up two of the bigger cogs of that run is a great way to tell him that this organization is committed to winning.
Here’s to hoping that it works. The Pirates need it to work. Losing McCutchen would be the straw that ultimately breaks the organization’s back.