The Pirates are in contract extension talks with Andrew McCutchen, Dejan Kovacevic reports. McCutchen will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after 2012, assuming he isn't a Super Two. If he isn't signed to an extension, he'll be eligible for free agency after 2015. It appears, unfortunately, that the type of extension McCutchen and the Pirates are discussing would not buy out any free agency years.
UPDATE 4:57 AM: The more I think about it, the more I think signing McCutchen for exactly four years would be an actively bad idea, since it would pretty much guarantee that McCutchen would leave Pittsburgh after the 2015 season. After that point, he would really have no incentive to stick around unless the Pirates were willing to pay market price for his services. If the Bucs signed him to a four-year deal, they might save a few million bucks over what he would make in arbitration, but that's all they would get out of it. If they make him wait, he would have to go year to year, and he'd have to sweat the possibility that he'd blow out his knee or something before he got that big multi-year payday. He'll therefore have at least some incentive to sign away a year or two of his free agency years in order to get that first big-money contract. The Pirates would be making a mistake by not at least sneaking one extra year in at the end of any contract McCutchen might sign.
Assuming the Pirates sign McCutchen to a four-year extension, what might that look like? Assuming (lots of assuming going on here, and sorry about that) McCutchen won't be a Super Two, he would make around $460,000 in 2012.
But what about the next two years? Before the 2010 season, the Dodgers signed Matt Kemp, who at the time was similar to McCutchen today in his athleticism, future potential, and overall value, to a two-year, $11 million deal that bought out his first two years of arbitration.
Curtis Granderson signed an extension for the Tigers in 2008, before his last pre-arbitration season. Granderson's career got off to a brilliant start, and he posted a WAR of 7.4 in 2007, compared to 3.4 for McCutchen last season. But Granderson was 26 at the time, so he had less headroom than the younger McCutchen does now. Granderson's deal was for five years and $30.25 million, with the pre-arbitration season and the three arbitration seasons costing $18.25 million.
There are somewhat more complicated cases to look at, like the Jay Bruce deal, which is six years and $51 million, buys out three free agency years, and is somewhat front-loaded, or the Justin Upton deal. But the Kemp and Granderson contracts provide a pretty good framework for what to expect here, assuming that the Pirates aren't buying out any free agency years. Basically, if you start with Kemp's $11 million, and add about $8 million for a final arbitration year and about $1 million for his last pre-arbitration year in 2012, that would mean that McCutchen's deal would be something like four years, $20 million.