BRADENTON, Fla. – I'm no scout, but I do know that if Andrew McCutchen was all that fast, he'd be at least to Northern Jersey by now.
Indeed, when I first heard that someone would require almost $52 million to stay in Pittsburgh for six years and play for the Pirates, my first thought was, "That sounds about right."
That it was McCutchen, one of the promising players in the game and an admirable young man as well, made it all the more interesting. And this is what makes McCutchen special.
While I don't know many 25-year-olds who would turn down that kind of money, there's also not a lot of 25-year-olds with the patience and wisdom to ignore two decades of losing, a largely empty ballpark in what appears to be an overmatched market, and another round of promises that it'll all be better soon.
So, why not wait? Pick his way through his arbitration years. Measure the plan one front-office decision – and commitment – at a time. Get an enduring read on this new Bob Nutting, who's spending on the draft (nearly $30 million over the past two years alone), A.J. Burnett (sigh) and, of course, McCutchen himself.
And count the days 'til free agency.
The Pirates are coming up on the 20th anniversary of their last winning season. You know how many guys in that time believed – or at least said – that it would end with them?
All of them. The good ones, the crummy ones and especially the romantic ones.
McCutchen is in for six years, maybe seven.
It's a lot of security. Like, forever security. More, it's a lot of trust. And a lot of loyalty.
See, McCutchen is good now, an All-Star last summer even. With more growth at the plate and a reasonable team around him, he one day could be a superstar. And who knows what McCutchen would become in a place where October games are at least plausible?
[ Hot Stove Daily: Next step for Pirates is losing with some style ]
He thinks that's Pittsburgh.
And I applaud his honesty. The Pirates are lucky to have him. After this long, I'm not sure they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But, to turn this franchise around, they were going to need someone like McCutchen to believe in them, no matter how young he is and no matter how big the check. Now they're going to need a few pitchers just like him.
"I know nothing more than the Pirates," McCutchen said Wednesday, the morning after his contract became official.
Take care of him, he takes care of you. He's been that way, he said, "since I was a little boy, knee-high to a duck, to where I am now."
If the Pirates – the owner Nutting, the president Frank Coonelly, the general manager Neal Huntington – are in, then so, too, is McCutchen. True, he didn't have much choice for the next few years, but this is about far more than that.
Maybe it was too early to think about free agency and eyeing a new organization. It wasn't, however, too early to eye a way out. And it wasn't too early to have formed an opinion about the Pirates, the kind of people running them and the kinds of teams they expect from here on.
They led the NL Central in late July … and went 19-43 the rest of the way.
McCutchen batted .291 the first half … and .216 the rest of the way.
Now they wear T-shirts that on the backs read "FINISH," and "Grit Happens" on the front.
There's hope in places. They're not bombing in the draft anymore, by most appearances. Four of the top 100 prospects ranked by Baseball America are Pirates, including two pitchers – right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon – in the top 15. Three 24-year-old lefties in camp – Justin Wilson, Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke – are promising.
So, baby steps. Win 82 games maybe one year. Throw a little money at a payroll. Put the kind of team on the field that might draw 2 million people. Pick a manager. Stick with him. Pick a course. Stick with that.
And grab onto Andrew McCutchen, the best thing to happen to the Pittsburgh Pirates in forever – an emerging, charismatic, African-American star who wasn't biding his time to get to New York or L.A. or wherever – and a guy who's happy – damned happy – with what he's got.
"You always want to go somewhere you're wanted – where you know you're wanted," he said. "They said they wanted me to be here. I wanted to know for myself. That made the decision. And I've seen something here. It's turning for the better. Yeah, we've had our losing seasons here, but it can only get better."
There's this commercial for a baseball video game McCutchen described. The man in the commercial has just won the World Series for the Cubs. He's so happy he's weeping.
"I have that same type of feel for the Pirates," McCutchen said. "It's going to shake the world."
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