BRADENTON, Fla. -- In the conclusion of its countdown to the Major League's Top 100 current players, the MLB Network anointed Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen the sixth best player in today's game.
As a sidebar, that placement offers a fascinating glimpse at the club's shrewd move to sign McCutchen to a six-year contract in 2012 -- as well as at the challenges it will confront to hold onto its franchise player beyond the contract's option year.
The six other position players in MLB Network's Top 10 have long-term contracts of varying lengths with an aggregate value of $1.192 billion, ranging from No. 9 Jose Abreu ($68 million) to No. 4 Giancarlo Stanton ($325 million). McCutchen is halfway through a $51.5 million pact, with a $14.5 million option for 2018 -- when he will still be just 31-year-old, meaning he could potentially become a free agent while still in his prime.
What do such market trends augur for the Bucs' chances of realizing both the team's and McCutchen's hopes of keeping him a Pirate for life?
"This is an $8 billion-$9 billion industry," said Pirates GM Neal Huntington. "If you are a really good player, you are compensated very well. We look forward to compensating our players well if they play well.
"We've got four more years to be in contract with Andrew, and [we] certainly hope we are able to find that financial common ground that allows him to spend a lot more than the next four years in Pittsburgh, as we continue to do everything in our power to help him be a great player."
In the 2015 inset to the big picture, McCutchen is in fair financial standing with his peers. He is entering eight figures, and his $10 million salary is the highest among the four outfielders in MLB Network's Top 10. But he is getting there in the fourth season of the contract -- the reason it is usually portrayed as "team-friendly." In the fourth years of the their deals, Mike Trout will earn $33.25 million and Stanton $25 million.
While rejecting the notion of "team-friendly" contracts, Huntington credits McCutchen with making this an obviously good deal.
"It has worked out well for him, he is a very wealthy young man," Huntington said. "He has been open about saying that the financial comfort and security freed him up to just go play. He didn't have to worry about the risk of injury, or the risk of not performing. The contract has been a part of why he became such a great player.
"Contrary to the narrative out there, these contracts don't always work out club-favorable. Many haven't. There is a lot of upside to both parties, but also shared risks. Our risk is that the player doesn't fulfill what we believe he can be. When he doesn't, the club has no recourse -- it still has to pay the player.
"If he does, the player's recourse is, he is staring at a much larger (next) contract."