Andrew McCutchen doesn’t care if spring training is still a week away—he’s already in Florida, lifting, swinging and preparing to push the Pittsburgh Pirates even further than the 98 wins they posted last season.
The 2013 National League MVP is embarking on his eighth season in the majors and leading one of the best teams in baseball. But Pittsburgh’s pitfall has been its inability to win the NL Central and being forced into the uncoveted Wild Card Game each of the last three seasons. It lost the last two, both at home.
The Pirates’ grasp on McCutchen is only for two seasons, and he’ll be worth heaps more than the team-friendly six-year, $51.5 million extension he signed in 2012.
The star center fielder has said multiple times throughout his career he’d like to remain a career-long Pirate, and he reiterated those intentions in a Monday interview with Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune:
I'm not too focused on it, but definitely I've mentioned it before. I've said it plenty times: this is a place that I'd love to be, a place that I'd love to spend my whole career, win championships and just be here. It doesn't happen a whole lot in this game. But if the opportunity presents itself, that would be great for me, for my wife and, hopefully, one day, God willing, we have a family of our own. So, that would be really cool.
At 29 years old and fully in his prime, McCutchen's average annual salary of $8.58 million is roughly a third of what he’s worth when comparing contracts of other players of his caliber.
|Highest-Paid Former MLB MVP Winners|
|Player||Salary||MVP Year (League)|
|Clayton Kershaw||$32,000,000||2014 (NL)|
|Josh Hamilton||$28,410,000||2010 (AL)|
|Justin Verlander||$28,000,000||2011 (AL)|
|Miguel Cabrera||$28,000,000||2012, 2013 (AL)|
|Albert Pujols||$25,000,000||2005, 2008, 2009 (NL)|
|Joe Mauer||$23,000,000||2009 (AL)|
Bryce Harper, the most recent NL MVP, is expected to command a $400 million deal—if not more—when he hits free agency in 2018, telling 106.7 FM The Fan in Washington, D.C., “Don’t sell me short,” when asked how much he could command (h/t Jamal Collier of MLB.com).
McCutchen is six years older than the 23-year-old Harper, but when healthy, he is just as gifted as the Washington Nationals star. However, he doesn't correlate player value with financial figures:
People define us—baseball players, athletes—by our contracts. I think I'm worth more than some numbers that you throw up on a board. Anybody can get paid millions of dollars, but it's what you do with who you are that matters. You may not make that much money, but you can still bring so much to a team, on the field and off the field. My teammates don't define me by how much I sign for. They define me by who I am. They define me by my character. That's worth way more than whatever the dollar sign is or however much you sign for. That's what I feel is most important, as a player and as a person. What am I worth? I'm worth more than just a contract. I'm worth more than just money. That's how I look at myself, and I hope my teammates and the coaching staff look at me like that as well.
McCutchen battled knee injuries last year but still played in all but five games and made his fifth straight All-Star Game.
He said he's entering spring training this year healthy and, as such, with a renewed sense of youth, per Biertempfel:
Rob Biertempfel @BiertempfelTrib
#Pirates McCutchen: "I’m looking forward to this year just for the fact that I’m 29 yrs old but I feel like I’m 22." https://t.co/C0eMJpisiW2016-2-15 18:48:53
“I'm ready to go, as opposed to last year. That's why I've been here [working out]. I'm going to be right and ready to go from spring training into the season. I'm looking forward to getting started. I feel like this offseason flew by. Baseball's back, and I'm looking forward to it. My knee's great, my body's great. I won't have to worry about that at all.”
The Pirates should once again be in the thick of the NL Central race, but the division will be just as competitive as it was a year ago, when for the first time in MLB history, it housed the three best records in baseball.
In most years, the Pirates’ 98 wins would’ve far and away won any division. But with the young Chicago Cubs only getting better with experience and the St. Louis Cardinals retaining a chunk of their championship-caliber core, McCutchen and the Pirates might need to win 100 games to ensure they don’t play in the single-elimination Wild Card Game again.