Ron Cook: McCutchen the ideal steal in baseball world


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There are three ways a player can react after signing a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract. One, the player gets fat and happy and thinks he has it made so he no longer has to work as hard. This is rare, but it could have happened with former Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Two, the player presses and tries to justify the big money. This happens often, most recently with Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. And three, the player just goes out and plays with a clear mind, no longer worried about his financial future. "That's the Andrew McCutchen way," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the other day. "It was like he said, 'Whew! Now, I can just play.' You wish they all were like Andrew."

In more ways than one.

McCutchen has become the best bargain in baseball.

By far.

The Pirates took a bit of a gamble when they signed McCutchen to a six-year, $51.5 million contract before the 2012 season with a club option for $14,750,000 in 2018 even though it gave the team cost certainty. McCutchen had just 2½ years of major league service time. But the Pirates knew, as a small-market club, that their best chance of keeping McCutchen for the long term was to make an early, aggressive offer. They correctly predicted he would become a star, both offensively and defensively. He had a huge season in 2012 and was the National League MVP last season when he led the team to the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. He's having another MVP-caliber season this year and was hitting .317 with 11 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .964 OPS heading into the weekend series against the Cubs in Chicago.

McCutchen is the 158th-highest-paid player this season at $7,458,333, according to Spotrac.com. Sixty-seven pitchers and 90 position players are making more. Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is right behind him on the list. Hardy was hitting .289 with no home runs, 15 RBIs and a .673 OPS through Thursday.

There are 39 players with $100 million deals, according to Spotrac. Seventy-seven have contracts that will pay them more than McCutchen's guaranteed $51.5 million. Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera has the richest deal -- $292 million over 10 years. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who pitched a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night, is making the most per season -- $30.7 million.

McCutchen is an absolute steal.

There might come a time when McCutchen complains about being underpaid. But he knew what he was getting and risking when he signed the deal. He knew he might lose money over the course of the contract. But he also knew he was getting financial security for his future kids and their kids long before the Pirates had to start paying him big dollars. That peace of mind has to be worth plenty, right?

Marte and Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata went the security route, Marte doing a six-year, $31 million deal this spring with two club options for 2020 and 2021, Tabata a six-year, $15 million deal in August 2011 with club options for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Marte, though he struggled earlier this month and was benched for four games by manager Clint Hurdle, has the look of a future star. Tabata's contract doesn't seem nearly so team-friendly now that he has become a bench player.

Second baseman Neil Walker and right fielder Gregory Polanco took a different path, turning down a multi-year offer. The team made Walker, who is under club control for two more seasons, an offer in 2010 after he had just a season-and-change in the major leagues. The threat of salary arbitration helped Walker get a $5.75 million contract for this season. He could price himself out of the market if he continues to play All-Star-caliber ball. The same thing could happen to Polanco if he becomes great, as many in baseball are predicting. He turned down a seven-year, $25 million offer in the spring before he played his first game in the majors. He had hit safely in his first 10 games going into Saturday after being called up June 10.

It's no wonder the Pirates wish all of their players were like McCutchen.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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