Andrew McCutchen says he had to 'not be as selfish' in move to right field
'It wasn’t an ask ... It was more of a say,' the former NL MVP says
February 17, 2017 4:13 PM
Pirates right fielder Andrew McCutchen makes a catch Friday during the first day of full squad workouts in Bradenton, Fla.
Andrew McCutchen speaks to the media Friday in Bradenton, Fla.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — Andrew McCutchen wasn’t particularly pleased when manager Clint Hurdle phoned a few weeks back to inform the former center fielder he would play right field. McCutchen had always assumed he’d be the one who decided when he left center for a corner.
After 10,317⅓ innings in the majors, all in center, he discovered the decision was no longer his.
“It wasn’t an ask,” McCutchen explained Friday morning. “It was more of a say: I was going to move there, and it was for the betterment of the team. That’s one of the first times where that’s something I wanted to go against. It wasn’t something I was ready for or something I wanted to do.”
Prior to the Pirates’ first full-squad workout at Pirate City, McCutchen attempted to move past an offseason that was rife with trade rumors and ended with a position change — abrupt yet anticipated — that put Starling Marte, an elite defender, in the captain’s chair in center field.
The move bothered McCutchen, 30, but he pledged to “not be as selfish” and accepted the transition. He searched for positives. Once the news was announced, he posted on Twitter a photo of Roberto Clemente, the Pirates right fielder for 18 seasons, tipping his cap to the crowd.
“He set the standard,” said McCutchen, who won the Robert Clemente Award in 2015. “I would love to be half that guy. … To be playing out there and following in his footsteps is an honor for me.”
McCutchen, a center fielder since his professional baseball days began, has played five innings in right field — at Class AA Altoona — since being drafted by the Pirates 11th overall in 2005. The most difficult part of moving there full-time, he said, is he feels like he can still patrol center.
“I still feel like I can play it. I don’t feel like I’m at the end of my career,” he said. “People like to say Torii Hunter moved to right. Uh, also, Torii Hunter was 35 years old when he moved to right.”
Reflecting on the phone call with McCutchen, Hurdle said both sides did a lot of listening. It wasn’t an easy conversation. McCutchen told the manager it was hard to hear the decision, and Hurdle understood why. The move wasn’t based on one factor, Hurdle said, but not 50 either.
Hurdle, a former major leaguer, can empathize with most players in camp. Not McCutchen.
“With what Andrew has accomplished, I have admiration,” he said. “I’ve never had a Silver Slugger bat. I’ve never carried a Gold Glove. I’ve never been an MVP. I need to sit and listen to his thoughts, explain the logic and the mindset, because there’s a set of human analytics that are real there.”
McCutchen, a Gold Glove center fielder in 2012, committed only three errors last season but had -28 Defensive Runs Saved, a metric which attempts to quantify a player’s defensive performance by measuring the runs he saved or cost a team compared to the average defender.
Part of the problem may have been the Pirates’ resolve to play their outfielders shallower. McCutchen admitted he should have spoken up about the issue once he realized its effect. He said he “learned from that mistake last year” and plans to play a “comfortable” depth in right field.
As for his offseason, McCutchen went to Europe for the first time and tried to relax. After a career-worst .766 OPS last season, he “threw the bat down” for a while and then “went back to the drawing board.” He focused on foot speed. And, of course, he attempted to ignore the trade rumors that swirled through the winter, reaching a fever pitch during the winter meetings in December.
McCutchen, entering the final guaranteed year of a contract that includes a club option for 2018, said he was not surprised the Pirates front office wasn’t in close contact to allay his concerns during the hot-stove season. Management rarely reaches out in the offseason, he said.
By now, McCutchen is ready for baseball. The offseason was an exhausting one.
“Y’all all sick of hearing about it,” he said, “and I am too.”
Hurdle had a similar refrain. After 11 minutes of questions about McCutchen, the manager said, “It’s kind of funny. You have to answer a lot of questions for a man who has done nothing but be a great player. He had four months [last season] when he was in-between, and the last two months were good again.”
McCutchen, candid throughout the extended conversation, claimed he is not resigned to the conclusion he won’t remain with the Pirates for the remainder of his career. He prefers not to rely on expectations, he said, so he’ll wait and see how things play out in Pittsburgh.
“I’m just ready to get my feet out there,” McCutchen said shortly before taking right field to shag balls in batting practice, “ready to show that this is just the beginning of some good stuff.”
All Pirates spring training games will be broadcast on radio, TV or online, the team announced Friday. ROOT Sports will carry 12 games, beginning with Feb. 26 against the Baltimore Orioles and concluding with games against the Toronto Blue Jays in Montreal March 31 and April 1. Pirates radio affiliates will broadcast 16 games, and all others will be on pirates.com.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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