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Joe Starkey

Starkey: Extend McCutchen now

| Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, 8:57 p.m.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

A topic floating around baseball these days: Who's gonna be the first $500 million player?

It could be Bryce Harper, scheduled to hit free agency in 2018. It won't be Andrew McCutchen.

Cutch missed the Silly Money Boat back in spring training of 2012 when he sold his prime baseball years to the Pirates at the bargain-basement rate of $66.25 million over seven years. That's if you include the team option for 2018, when McCutchen will be 31 (he turns 32 on Oct. 10 of that year).

McCutchen's contract has become one of the “team-friendliest” in all of sports. His salary of $13,208,333 ranked 76th in baseball last season, just ahead of Matt Harrison's and just behind Ervin Santana's.

Players now are making as much as $25 million to $30 million a season — and as Mike Tomlin might say, the arrow is pointed up.

The question regarding McCutchen would appear to be two-fold: Will the Pirates merely try to make him their first $100 million player, and would he settle for way less than market value again?

I asked McCutchen, at PirateFest on Saturday, if he felt the team would try to keep him long-term.

“I mean, we'll see,” he said. “This is still a place I do want to be. I love it here. If that's something they can do, then that's something they can do. I really can't answer from their end. But we'll see what happens in the future.”

OK, so if Jason Heyward is worth $184 million (and he went below-market to sign with the Cubs), what is McCutchen worth?

“I don't know,” McCutchen said. “I don't know what I'm worth. I don't define my worth in money.”

That answer must light Bob Nutting's being like a Christmas tree.

The natural follow-up, which I did not think to ask, should have been: “Does that mean you'd be willing to stick around and play on another way-below-market deal?”

McCutchen just might. It wouldn't shock me.

From the Pirates' perspective, it doesn't make sense to try to sign McCutchen for life. You don't pay a 37-year-old outfielder $20 million a season.

It does make sense, however, on a lot of levels, to try to extend McCutchen right now. He has three years left on his deal, including the team option. The Pirates should tear up those years and add three more, taking McCutchen through his age-34 season, at which point outfielders can still be plenty productive (Carlos Beltran being a prime example).

Something in the realm of a six-year, $120 million offer seems reasonable. If McCutchen balks, live with it. The Pirates could still choose to keep him through the life of his deal. Which is to say, through the best years of his career.

But they should at least make a genuine effort to extend him.

There is a public-relations angle to this, as well. Many fans are smarting from the Neil Walker trade. The Pirates would do a world of good to lock up their best player, who also happens to be their best marketing tool, the face of the franchise and one of the faces of the sport.

It was McCutchen, even more than hometown hero Walker, who personified the Pirates' rise from ashes. And unlike Walker, McCutchen hasn't missed dozens of games on account of injury in recent years.

In fact, McCutchen has had just one disabled-list stint in seven years, and that was the byproduct of getting hit by a pitch.

There is every reason to believe McCutchen would remain a productive player well into his 30s, especially with a move to a corner outfield spot.

Extend him now. Or at least test the theory that he isn't dying to find out what some other team might pay him.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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