With McCutchen signed, focus now shifts to Walker

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- When the Pirates officially announce Andrew McCutchen's $51.5 million, six-year contract at a news conference today, the star center fielder will possess the second-largest contract in franchise history.

But the deal could turn out to be a bargain for the Pirates.

McCutchen, the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft, sought compensation similar to two of his draft peers -- '05 top overall pick Justin Upton, who signed a six-year, $51.25 million deal in '10, and 12th overall pick Jay Bruce, who signed a six-year, $51 million deal before the '11 season.

Statistically speaking, McCutchen is better now than Upton and Bruce were when they signed their deals. He has a higher career batting average (.276) than Upton (.272) and Bruce (.257) did, and his on-base percentage (.365) tops Upton's (.350) and Bruce's (.327).

Upton and Bruce had better power numbers than McCutchen does now, but not by much. And in the most telling statistic -- Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which seeks to measure a player's overall value by determining how many wins a player is worth to his team -- McCutchen (4.9 wins over 162 games) easily trumps Upton (2.9) and Bruce (2.8).

McCutchen declined comment Monday, saying he will speak about his new contract at the team's news conference this morning at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Owner Bob Nutting and team president Frank Coonelly are expected to attend.

The deal is the second largest in team history, behind Jason Kendall's six-year, $60 million contract in 2000.

McCutchen could earn as much as $65.25 million if the Pirates exercise a $14.75 million club option in '18. There is a $1 million buyout if the Pirates decline to pick up that option.

McCutchen will collect a $1.25 million signing bonus and a $500,000 salary this season. That number continues to grow over the life of the backloaded contract -- $4.5 million in '13, $7.25 million in '14, $10 million in '15, $13 million in '16 and $14 million in '17, according to a source.

"He got himself a deal that was right with the market, and I'm very happy for him," second baseman Neil Walker said. "He deserves every single penny he gets. He works very hard for it."

Walker could be the next young Pirate to sign a contract extension -- joining McCutchen and Jose Tabata, who signed a long-term deal last summer. Walker said he and his agent have had discussions with the front office about a new contract, but the talks haven't "gone very far," Walker said.

"I want to sign. I want to be here in Pittsburgh," Walker said. "But we want what's fair. That's where we stand on that end of it. Any other questions would have to be diverted to the other side -- the other Neal."

The "other Neal" is general manager Neal Huntington, who said part of the core philosophy since he joined the club in '07 is to extend contracts of deserving players.

"But it has to be a shared risk," Huntington said, speaking generally about contract negotiations. "It has to be a compromise. It has to be a situation that both sides feel it's beneficial for them and matches their expectations. When those happen, we get agreements. When they don't, we don't."

Walker has accrued enough major league service time to be eligible for arbitration after this season. He said while he would prefer to sign a contract extension, he is comfortable playing this season with an arbitration meeting on the horizon.

Walker said he and McCutchen have long talked about how they would like to form the core of the franchise.

"Pittsburgh is very fortunate to have a player of that caliber here for that many years, and hopefully beyond that," Walker said. "And I would like to join him."

First win a blowout

The Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles, 10-3, Monday night at Ed Smith Stadium to pick up their first win in three tries this spring.

Left fielder Alex Presley went 3 for 3 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs, and designated hitter Matt Hague went 2 for 3 with a homer and three RBIs.

Starter Jo-Jo Reyes went 12/3 innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits. He struck out two.

"I thought my fastball was pretty good tonight," Reyes said. "I had a strikeout on a curveball. I think everything was pretty good for the first time out."

The Pirates scored in each of the first five innings en route to a 10-1 lead.

Pirates on air

Root Sports will air 150 regular season and four spring training Pirates games this year, the network announced Monday. All televised games will include live pre- and postgame shows.

Play-by-play announcers and color analysts remain unchanged from last season -- Greg Brown and Tim Neverett will share play-by-play duties and Steve Blass, Bob Walk and John Wehner will provide analysis. The crew alternates TV and radio broadcasting duties.

The network's first spring training broadcast will be Saturday when the Pirates play the Twins at McKechnie Field. Root will also air the Pirates regular-season opener, April 5 at home against the Phillies.

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com and Twitter @msanserino. First Published March 6, 2012 5:00 AM


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