The Pittsburgh Pirates and All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen agreed on Tuesday to a six-year, $51.5 million deal.
McCutchen, 25, is now under contract with the Pirates through the 2017 season, and there's a club option for 2018.
Though he hit just .259 in 2011, McCutchen posted career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (89) while adding 23 stolen bases. He would have been eligible to become a free agent following the 2015 season.
"It all really hasn't sunk in for me yet," McCutchen said. "It like when you're getting remarried and you are renewing your vows. That's how I feel."
This season, the 25-year-old McCutchen will make $500,000 plus a $1.25 million signing bonus. He will get $4.5 million in 2013, $7.25 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015, $13 million in 2016 and $14 million in 2017. For 2018, there is a $14.75 million club option or a $1 million buyout.
McCutchen — considered the linchpin of a core group the Pirates are relying on to turn the club around — received the second-largest contract in franchise history. Jason Kendall snared a six-year, $60-million contract in 2000.
"Andrew McCutchen is one of the best young players in the game and we are very pleased to make this type of commitment to a great player and a great person," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It has been our intent for Andrew to be a cornerstone for this organization and this contract solidifies that intent for at least the next seven years."
Steve Hammond, McCutchen's agent, credited both sides for making sure McCutchen will continue to be among the focal pieces to Pittsburgh's rebuilding process.
"We were working hard at this," Hammond said. "It was something Pittsburgh wanted and Andrew wanted. We found common ground."
Floating between leadoff and third in the lineup, McCutchen helped keep the Pirates in contention in the NL Central until late July last season.
"This is an exciting day for the Pirates organization and for Pirates fans," said Bob Nutting, the team's chairman of the board. "In addition to being a dynamic player on the field and a leader in the clubhouse, Andrew is an outstanding representative of the Pirates in the community. We have said from the very beginning that our plan is to acquire high impact talent, then retain and build on that talent to bring a winning organization to our fans. I believe this agreement speaks not only to that commitment, but also to Andrew's belief in the positive direction of our club."
For the past several years, the Pirates have had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and the team has not finished above .500 since 1992. However, Nutting said he doesn't want McCutchen's contract to be viewed as merely something to appease fans in Pittsburgh.
"I hope we never fall into the trap of signing a player just to make a statement," Nutting said. "This was done because it was the right thing for the organization with exactly the right player."
McCutchen hit .286 in each of his first two seasons in the majors, and has 78 career stolen bases.
"We're willing to make this commitment because of the person Andrew is, the player Andrew is and the player we believe he is going to become," Huntington said.
The Pirates have two-thirds of their starting outfield locked into long-term contracts. In August, right fielder Jose Tabata signed a six-year, $15-million deal. The club also has opened talks with second baseman Neil Walker about a possible long-term contract.
"This is a natural step in the process as we go forward," Nutting said. "We've focused on (updating) facilities, we've focused on the draft, we've focused on bringing talent into the organization. I believe we've followed through on that."
There were times, though, that McCutchen and the Pirates appeared to be far apart on what a new contract would look like. Hammond said McCutchen wanted to wait until he played at least two full seasons before getting serious about an extension.
"There was some risk in that," Hammond said. "We were willing to take that on and we did."
McCutchen's new deal is similar to the contract Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce and Arizona outfielder Justin Upton agreed to at similar points in their respective careers. Both players had two-plus seasons in the majors at the time the deals were signed. Once McCutchen reached that level of service following the 2011 season, he felt he had the right framework in which to make a deal.
"It was a better opportunity to look at those players and compare ourselves to them," Hammond said. "It worked out."
McCutchen's speed has made him one of baseball's best defensive centerfielders and his charismatic smile and trademark dreadlocks have made him one of Pittsburgh's most popular players.
The Pirates drafted McCutchen with the 11th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. He made his major league debut in 2009 and is a career .276 hitter.