Monday, March 5, 2012

Pirates Sign McCutchen to an Extension

Andrew McCutchen has been the most talented player the Pittsburgh Pirates have had since Barry Bonds played for them in the early 90s. Unfortunately for the Pirates they haven't had a winning season since Bonds left as a free agent after the 1992 season. They've had some good players come up since then, but they were traded because the Pirates were unable to keep them. Yesterday, the Pirates locked up McCutchen to a six year deal worth 51 million with an option year. McCutchen wouldn't of been eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, but this deal avoids his arbitration years and could keep him in Pittsburgh until the 2018 season.

McCutchen is a true five tool player and he made his first All Star team last season. McCutchen was batting .291 and slugging .505 at the All Star break and the Pirates had a winning record and even spent a couple days in first place. However, in the second half McCutchen slumped and only batted .216. The Pirates as a team did as well, and they only finished 72-90. It was the Pirates 19th straight losing season, but it was a 15 game improvement from 2010. McCutchen finished with a .259 average, .364 OBP, .456 slugging pct., 23 home runs, 89 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases; still a pretty decent year despite the second half slump.

The Pirates also have promising second baseman Neil Walker who drove in 83 runs last year. Left fielder and leadoff hitter Jose Tabata was hurt half the year but the Pirates have high hopes for him. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez was a first round pick in 2008 and had a decent rookie year in 2010, but took a huge step back in 2011 batting under the Mendoza line. The Pirates will need a big improvement from Alvarez this year. Rookie right fielder Alex Presley batted .298 in 52 games and Garrett Jones will move back to first base to make room for Presley. Clint Barmes was signed to be the shortstop this year, and they brought back Nate McLouth to serve as a fourth outfielder.

Pitching is still a weakness for the Pirates. The rotation was better last year, but Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia are all middle of the rotation starters. They signed Eric Bedard and traded for AJ Burnett, but Burnett is out for the first month or two of the season. Bedard is also an injury prone pitcher himself. Joel Hanrahan had a All Star year as a closer and Evan Meek, Daniel McCutchen, and Jose Veras are the best options for setup guys. Pittsburgh does have a couple of top pitching prospects in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but they are a few years away from contributing.

Its possible the Pirates could finally break the .500 barrier this season, but this team is a year or two away from contending. The Astros are terrible and the Cubs aren't much better, so its safe to say the Pirates are no longer the doormat of the NL Central. But they Pirates aren't as good as the Reds, Brewers, and Cardinals; and it would take a miracle for Pittsburgh to leapfrog those teams this year. The Pirates do look to be heading in the right direction though, and they made a big commitment to keep their best player around at least the next 6 years.

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