<
>
Get ESPN+

Are Pirates committed to keeping Andrew McCutchen for long haul?

Andrew McCutchen can become a free agent after the 2018 season. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

Andrew McCutchen won the National League MVP in 2013 and has finished in the top five in the voting four different times, which means that already, he has matched a Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer. Roberto Clemente won the NL MVP in 1966, and ranked in the top five in the voting in four seasons, some of the achievements of a man whose life ended way too soon.

The 29-year-old McCutchen has 1,151 career hits and 151 career homers, and so he should have at least a chance to attain the 3,000-hit benchmark that was the crowning jewel of Clemente's playing career. McCutchen has had a lot moments like this, as well, demonstrating that he is a worthy heir to Clemente as the signature star for the 124-year-old Pirates franchise.

But Clemente played at a time when the choice about whether he played for the Pirates belonged almost entirely to the team. Because of baseball's clause, the Pirates could keep Clemente in their lineup as long as they wanted, and as long as they wanted him, Clemente's only real alternative was to quit.

McCutchen, on the other hand, is part of an era when David Price makes about $10,000 per pitch, and a middle-of-the-rotation starter like Mike Leake gets a contract worth about half of what Bill DeWitt, Jr. paid for the St. Louis Cardinals 20 years ago.

McCutchen could walk away from the Pirates after the 2018 season and become a free agent, although the decision about when and if he is going to continue a permanent Pittsburgh legacy will likely be made long before that -- by McCutchen and the Pirates, mutually.