Spring training: Why no McCutchen extension?
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the Arizona Diamondbacks last week signed 22-year-old outfielder Justin Upton to a six-year, $51.25 million extension, it might as well have raised this question:
Why not the Pirates with Andrew McCutchen?
McCutchen, 23, is coming off a fine 2009 debut, with a .286 average, 12 home runs and 54 RBIs in four months of everyday duty, plus superlative defense. The team controls his rights for six more years -- he cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season -- but Upton's extension goes further in that it buys out two of what would have been his free-agency years.
In such deals, the team gets what it sees as a discount on the free-agency years in exchange for the player getting guaranteed money.
McCutchen would appear to fit the model, but no such approach was made by the Pirates this winter.
Split-squad games: Pirates vs. New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. Paul Maholm vs. Alfredo Aceves. Pirates vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m., Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, Fla. Brad Lincoln vs. Matt Garza.
TV, radio: None.
Camp roster: 66 players, including 36 pitchers, six catchers, 13 infielders, 11 outfielders.
Injuries: OF Brandon Jones (knee), RHP Octavio Dotel (oblique), RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).
Opener: 28 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
"Signing a player through his arbitration years or even free-agency years is a process that we think makes sense for the Pirates, and we'll continue to evaluate those on a case-by-case basis," team president Frank Coonelly said Sunday. "Andrew certainly is that type of player, and the question is timing. From the club's perspective, the earlier you go, the more risk you take on."
And that, Coonelly added, was the Pirates' thinking: McCutchen, though a year older than Upton, has less experience in the majors than Upton's two-plus seasons. Also, Upton is coming off a breakout 2009 with a .300 average, 26 home runs and 86 RBIs.
"We just didn't think it was the right time," Coonelly said.
Even if that time comes, it surely will be met with no small amount of skepticism in Pittsburgh: Management identified outfielder Nate McLouth as one of its core players early last year in signing him to a multiyear extension, then traded him by the summer. The reaction, in the clubhouse and in the public, was blistering.
"There's no question that the McLouth trade, more than any other, had an effect in the clubhouse in terms of players trying to have an understanding about their future with the organization," Coonelly said. "We can never say never, but I will say again that the days of us needing to move players in order to get multiple players in return to rebuild the system, those are over."
As for undoing that damage ...
"Nothing that we say is going to rebuild that trust. It's going to be the conduct. It's going to be what we do. And one area where we have to be careful ... as important as I think it is to build trust in the clubhouse and trust with the fans, again, you can't say never. You never know what situations might arise that make a trade look compelling."
McCutchen smiled Sunday when asked if he thought about an extension when hearing of Upton's.
"Not really," he replied. "In order to get that, you need to do what you need to do here on the field. Justin's played two full seasons, and he's coming off a great season. He was offered that contract based off what he did. That's something you think about after that. Of course, hey, it would be cool to have something like that. At the same time, it's about focusing on helping the team win this season."
Fourth-inning home runs by Bobby Crosby and Garrett Jones carried the Pirates to a 15-5 romp past the Minnesota Twins Sunday at McKechnie Field.
The Pirates were trailing, 5-3, when Crosby reached forward and mostly one-armed a three-run shot to left. A brisk wind that wreaked havoc on the fielders all afternoon gave a huge assist to Crosby's ball, which probably would have been a flyout in Pittsburgh.
But there was no mistaking the pedigree of Jones' two-run shot later that inning, a laser to right that brought an 8-5 lead.
It was Jones' first hit after an 0-for-7 start to his spring.
"I just wanted to get my swing back to being a little shorter," Jones said.
Crosby, making his first spring start at first base, finished with four RBIs.
Other offensive highlights amid the 15-hit total: Rule 5 draft pick John Raynor tripled, doubled and walked with three RBIs, Ryan Doumit went 2 for 3 with two solidly struck singles, Alvarez went 2 for 4 with a walk, and Delwyn Young hit a three-run triple.
Ross Ohlendorf, who has drawn positive reviews from management, had a tough two-inning start in throwing six of his first seven pitches for balls, then giving up Justin Morneau's two-run home run in the first.
Manager John Russell blamed a slippery mound early in the game, but Ohlendorf blamed himself.
"I never really established my fastball or got command of it," Ohlendorf said. "A little bit of it was that I hadn't really planned on throwing my changeup, and I threw it for the second and fourth pitches of the game. I should have stayed with my fastball."
• Reliever Vinnie Chulk pitched two scoreless innings and got five of his six outs by strikeout.
• Outfielder Brandon Jones has been held out of Grapefruit League action because of a sore right knee, general manager Neal Huntington said. Huntington added that Jones is "progressing well."
• Injured relievers Octavio Dotel (oblique) and Joel Hanrahan (elbow) continued to long-toss, and neither has a timetable to return to the mound. Hanrahan is likely to open the season on the 15-day disabled list.
• Telling moment during the morning infield practice: New second baseman Akinori Iwamura felt strongly enough about sharing a defensive tip with Alvarez that he hastily summoned his translator to the first-base line, pulled Alvarez aside and engaged him in an animated, one-way discussion.
First Published March 8, 2010 12:00 am