It’s been nearly twelve years since the Pittsburgh Pirates put together a deal anything close to the one that Andrew McCutchen will be signing.
It was the year 2000 when the Pirates inked 26-year old Jason Kendall to a six-year/$60 million dollar contract. A year earlier, Kendall had destroyed his ankle while trying to beat out a bunt (sigh) against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Kendall was a hero in Pittsburgh. A gritty, tough-as-nails player which usually means a white guy who hustles, Kendall seemed to have all the tools. A durable catcher that could hit for average, had some pop, could run and throw well and was solid defensively.
Looking back on the deal it turned out to be a classic pay for past performance, rather than what Kendall could bring in the future. The Pirates overpaid Kendall based on his three All-Star appearances in 1996 when he was The Sporting News Rookie of the Year, 1998 and 2000.
Kendall caught the eyes of the League by putting up some nice WAR numbers including a 1.0 in his rookie year, a 4.8 in 1997, a 6.1 in 1998, a 4.1 in 1999 to go along with a .179 isolated slugging, and a sizeable 5.0 WAR in 2000.
It made all of us fans in Pittsburgh very happy, because the franchise hadn’t won in years, but of course the deal still didn’t turn the Pirates into a winner. In fact, when it was reported that Kendall would welcome new players to Pittsburgh with ‘Welcome to Hell,’ it made me personally feel the exact opposite of Kendall.
Kendall peaked in 2000 when he had an isolated slugging number of .150, but he would never get higher than a .092 again in his career. His power was gone, and maybe so was his desire.
Check out this commercial from the year 2000, maybe the Bucs paid him for his surfing abilities as well.
Kendall had 45 homers during his most productive years from 1996 to 2000, he has had 30 bombs since. From 2001-2004 he hit 22 homers, with ten coming in 2001. There is no way to tell for certain, but it seemed that a 2001 thumb ligament injury impacted him at the plate for his final years in Pittsburgh.
After the 2004 season when Kendall had put up a 5.0 WAR, the Bucs traded him at his highest value to the Oakland A’s. Kendall did have a .387 career on-base percentage, but the Bucs simply couldn’t justify a $10 million dollar salary when their projected payroll for 2005 was $35 million.
Kendall was headed to the West Coast he loved so much. The Pirates have struggled to find a serviceable replacement for Kendall ever since. Kendall’s 1252 games caught still stands as a Pittsburgh Pirates record.
Unfortunately the return from the Athletics for Kendall was diminutive at best— Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes and cash. Here you can see how the Bucs turned an all everything catcher into nothing.
Looking at the two players before they signed their deals, McCutchen put up higher WAR numbers. In their first three years in the majors, McCutchen posted a 12.9 WAR, while Kendall had an 11.9.
Now if only we could look into the crystal ball and see what the future holds for Andrew McCutchen. I have a feeling it will never be that of a singles hitter, I have a good feeling Cutch’s future wife will never be on Baseball Wives, nor can I see the star centerfielder saying “Welcome to Hell” to his teammates. Cutch isn’t a snitch like Kendall turned out to be either.
But I do believe Andrew McCutchen has a future that holds much greater things than downtrodden Pirates fans can possibly imagine.