McCutchen: Pirates didn't sign me for pity, I'm here to work

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen's decision to stay in Pittsburgh was not about pity. Or nostalgia. Or to enjoy a Farewell Tour or to chase of a specific milestone or reach a specific date.

That's simply not how McCutchen's mind works. The end will come soon enough. The 37-year-old Pirates icon knows this. He would just prefer to not think about it. It's better that way.

So maybe the $5 million, one-year deal the five-time All-Star outfielder/designated hitter agreed to Wednesday will be his last. Maybe it won't. There will come a time when he will retire as a Pirate.

That time is not now.

"There's more that I can add to this team," McCutchen said. "They're not [re-signing me] out of any type of pity or just because of who I am. They're doing it because they know there's still a lot that I can still bring to this team. Not only off the field but on the field, too."

McCutchen stressed when he came back to his adopted hometown last winter it was an open-ended decision. He wasn't kidding. When his 2023 season ended in early September with a partially torn left Achilles, he didn't hide his intent to re-up with the Pirates. There were no hiccups during negotiations, with both sides simply making sure there were no setbacks in McCutchen's recovery.

There haven't been, with McCutchen pointing out he's going through his usual December routine of "swinging, throwing, working out, the whole nine, doing the things that we don't really want to do but have to do because it's our profession."

A profession in which McCutchen has excelled for most of his 15 seasons. The 2013 NL Most Valuable Player got his 2,000th hit last June and was sitting one homer shy of 300 when he pulled up while legging out a double against Milwaukee on Sept. 4.

While allowing his body can't quite do in his late-30s what it did a decade ago -- when McCutchen was one of the most electric players in the game while helping Pittsburgh to three straight playoff berths -- he feels he can still be productive.

"I know going into this year if I [can] just keep myself on the field and keep myself healthy, I think I'll be able to be more consistent in a sense to where I may not be 2012 or '13 Andrew McCutchen but I can be a hybrid of what I was last year and be consistent and better than I was," he said.

And an return to the outfield, where he played a handful of games in 2023, isn't out of the question. General manager Ben Cherington said the club will follow McCutchen's lead in that area, an area that McCutchen thinks still is an important part of his identity as a player.

"[Playing in the outfield] does help me because that's what I did my entire career. I was an everyday outfielder," said McCutchen, a Gold Glove winner as a center fielder in 2012. "The transition of hitting more and being more of a DH presents challenges for me. I'm a guy where I work well when I'm constantly moving, constantly on my feet, in the action."

McCutchen's return last year gave the franchise as welcome dose of good publicity and also signaled a shift in the massive overhaul Cherington began when he took over in the fall of 2019. The Pirates went 76-86 in 2023, a 15-win improvement over 2022.

Another step forward is expected next year. The player most closely identified with Pittsburgh's mini-Renaissance from 2013-15 thinks it's time for a core that includes Gold Glove third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, outfielder Bryan Reynolds and towering 6-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz to "put on our big-boy pants and get to work."

"I feel like the Pirates have been under this window of development and rebuilding," he said. "That's always the word you always hear when it comes to teams that may struggle. They've got to find that way to build a championship ballclub. I think we're in a place now where that's out the window. There's changes and things that need to be done. We need to be in a place to where we can win."

Pittsburgh has added veteran left-handed pitchers Marco Gonzales and Martín Pérez to the rotation. First baseman Rowdy Tellez, who played with McCutchen in Milwaukee, agreed to a one-year deal this week. There is optimism inside the organization that the gap between the Pirates and the teams they're chasing in the NL Central is closing.

McCutchen wants to be around long enough to see it through. Just don't ask him to put a timetable on their future, or his. He thinks he can play at least two more years, but there are no plans to institute some sort of artificial deadline. It kind of ruins everything.

"I try to not put on too much pressure and try to go out and enjoy myself as much as I can, play as well as I can," he said. "Because I do so much better when I'm just out there enjoying it."