Pirates Notebook: Cubs join ranks, get early, long extensions


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Add the Chicago Cubs to the list of teams trying to build a strong foundation by locking in young talent.

Last week, the Cubs signed first baseman Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year deal worth $41 million with two club options that could allow Rizzo, 23, to earn $71 million over nine years. Last year, the Cubs signed shortstop Starlin Castro, also 23, to a six-year contract worth at least $60 million over seven seasons.

They follow teams such as the Pirates, who, in the past two years, have signed young players to multiyear contracts: Andrew McCutchen accepted a six-year, $51.5 million deal before the 2012 season, and Jose Tabata signed a six-year deal in 2011 worth $14.75 million over six years.

In recent years, teams have been more prone to extend contracts of young players well before they hit free agency. The Tampa Bay Rays signed third baseman Evan Longoria to a six-year contract after just six games in the major leagues.

But teams are gambling when they pre-empt the market.

With McCutchen, it appears the Pirates made a good bet because his stellar 2012 season made him much more valuable than what the Pirates will pay him over the life of his contract. The jury is still out on Tabata. His contract was viewed as a team-friendly deal at the time, but his statistics have slipped dramatically since the signing.

The Cubs are relatively new to the trend, and their homegrown approach coincides with Theo Epstein's arrival ahead of the 2012 season. Epstein, the president of baseball operations, who is a former general manager of the Boston Red Sox, has pledged to build a winner in Chicago by building a strong foundation.

Rizzo said he felt a sense of relief after signing the big deal. Whether that relief turns into the type of production McCutchen enjoyed after signing a multimillion-dollar contract is to be determined.

"I still have to perform," Rizzo said. "But all I have to worry about is playing ball now."

In support of the Penguins

Russell Martin is a fan of Les Habitants. But this weekend, he'll wear a jersey supporting Le Magnifique. The Montreal Canadiens fan is more than happy to join his teammates in wearing Penguins jerseys on flights for their upcoming road trip in honor of the NHL playoffs.

"We want to show our support," Neil Walker said. "A lot of us know those guys over there."

Most tried to keep their same number. Walker will wear No. 18 (James Neal), Pedro Alvarez will wear No. 24 (Matt Cooke), and Clint Barmes will wear No. 12 (Jarome Iginla). When that wasn't possible, the Pirates picked their favorite Penguins player. Or in Martin's case, former player: Mario Lemieux (66).

"I'm comfortable with it," Martin said. "Especially with the Canadiens being out of the playoffs."

Contreras returns to bullpen

The Pirates reinstated right-handed pitcher Jose Contreras from the bereavement list and optioned right-hander Jared Hughes to Class AAA Indianapolis. Contreras, 41, went on the bereavement list Friday after his son-in-law died. He has a 4.50 ERA in five appearances this season. He missed more than a month earlier this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Hughes, 27, is 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA. He was recalled from Indianapolis to take Contreras' spot.

McCutchen back in lineup

After sitting out Sunday with a sore right knee, McCutchen returned to the lineup Tuesday. Hurdle said McCutchen felt something in his knee that reminded him of a sensation he experienced before tearing his ACL in high school. "Once we went through those procedures, the X-Ray or the MRI, he saw there was nothing structurally out of place," Hurdle said. "He felt much better." Starling Marte, originally scheduled for a day off Sunday before taking McCutchen's place, was not in the lineup Tuesday.

Searage misses game

Pitching coach Ray Searage missed the game Tuesday, dealing with a personal matter. He might also miss the game tonight. Euclides Rojas, the bullpen coach, served as pitching coach. Third base coach Nick Leyva also missed the game because of the death of his father. Rick Sofield coached third base, and Dave Jauss filled in at first.

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