Andrew McCutchen by Coty Tarr, for Sports Illustrated
When spring training opens in mid-February, Andrew McCutchen will embark on his 10th season with the Pirates franchise, which drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2005.
McCutchen has blossomed from a precocious high schooler into a three-time finalist for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. McCutchen, who turned 28 last month, is in his prime as a player and at the midpoint of a six-year, $51.5 million contract.
McCutchen already can be considered one of the greatest players in the 128-year history of the franchise.
This offseason, McCutchen is busy preparing for his upcoming wedding and settling into a new house.
One day last week, his schedule included filming a spot for Fox Sports' NFL coverage (spoiler alert: It ends with Cutch waving a pair of Terrible Towels) and a four-hour commercial shoot for a video game. As camera crews and a makeup assistant buzzed around him, McCutchen paused for an exclusive interview with the Tribune-Review.
McCutchen discussed how he grew as a player in 2014, which position the Pirates need to shore up the most this offseason (hint: It's not catcher) and whether he'll end his career in Pittsburgh.
Q: In 2014, you batted .314 and led the league with a .952 on-base plus slugging percentage. You also were hit by pitches 10 times, the most in your career, and went on the disabled list with a rib injury. Overall, was it the kind of season you'd hoped for?
A: It had its ups and downs, as every season does. But after going back and looking at it … it was a good year for me, although there were some adjustments that I had to make towards the end. I think I did really good, but there is still work to be done. I definitely feel I could have done better. Overall, a good year. I dealt with an injury, and I didn't let that be an excuse.
Q: Winning the NL MVP Award in 2013 made you a target, in good and bad ways. Manager Clint Hurdle talks about watching to see how a player matures — physically, mentally and emotionally — over the course of his career. How did you mature last year?
A: I think I did. Being the key guy on our team, if anything was going to happen to someone on the other team, if anyone was going to get hit, I knew I was going to be the target (for retaliation). The part I had to grow from was not being the guy to retaliate myself. You're going to be angry and upset, and I was, in a lot of instances. But what I had to learn was to turn the other cheek and move on. That's what I was trying to do every day. That's probably the part where I grew the most because that was the hardest — just keep quiet and keep going — because the man in you wants to come out in those situations. I learned from that.
Q: One day after Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt was hit by a pitch that broke his hand, you were plunked by Diamondbacks reliever Randall Delgado. After that, you batted .326 over your final 38 games of the season. That wasn't a coincidence, was it?
A: Yeah, it definitely fueled me. I remember saying, "You're just waking me up. That's all you're doing. You're waking up a hibernating bear. From here, I'm going to keep going, keep pushing and do some big things."
Q: The day after you were hit, though, you suffered the rib injury during a swing and eventually went on the disabled list. Do you believe being hit by Delgado had anything to do with that? How badly were you hurt?
A: It definitely was connected. I've taken that swing thousands of times in my career and never had a problem. When I was hit on the spine, I was bruised pretty bad. Anyone who knows anatomy knows when you're hurt like that, your body compensates. That's what my body did, and it left other places vulnerable to being injured. It wound up being my rib. If I was never hit, that probably would never have happened. After coming off the DL, I was still hurt, but I knew I was good enough (to play). The pain was still there for a while. I don't know exactly when I was able to play without feeling it anymore. Toward the end of the season, I was fine. I was back to where I was at. But those first couple of weeks ... I remember a checked swing and another time running down the baseline when I was like, "Aw, man!" But I got through it. It didn't hinder me that much.
Q: You're at the peak of your career, but the Pirates have made back-to-back early exits from the playoffs. Is management doing enough to surround you with talented teammates to take full advantage of your ability?
A: I believe we're doing a good job, but we're not where we need to be yet. If we were, we'd be having a parade and raising up a trophy. We're moving in the right direction. We still have more work to do. The guys making those (personnel) decisions know that. I feel they are doing what they can to surround me with a championship ballclub. I would like to go into next season thinking, "All right, we've got the team to win it" instead of thinking, "Uh, I wonder what this season is going to bring us. I wonder if we're going to do better." Honestly, that's how this year felt in spring training. I was wondering how we were going to do instead of being confident we were going to make it to the playoffs and have a chance to win the World Series. It was more of a chess match: What moves do we need to make? What are we going to do here? Are we going to be good enough? I want to go into (the 2015) season knowing we're good enough, we're going to the playoffs, we're going to win our division and have a chance to win the World Series. That's what I look forward to being able to have.
Q: What's the missing ingredient for this team?
A: Consistency throughout the lineup is something we need. We need an everyday first baseman. The big ballclubs, the good ballclubs have an everyday first baseman. The platooning is not going to work for us. We need somebody who can be confident over there, knowing he's going to play every day, regardless of whether he's struggling or not. We need a complete lineup. You can have a platoon in the outfield every now and then. Look at the Giants, who had (Travis) Ishikawa out there (in the playoffs). Outfield platoons, I understand. But when it comes to the infield, you need that group of guys who are always going to be there: first base, third base, shortstop, second base. Once we have that, I think it will complete our team from an offensive standpoint. We have defense and pitching. I think an everyday first baseman is something we really need to look into.
Q: You're going to be married soon. You're into your late 20s. You're in the midst of a long-term contract. Is this the point where you start thinking about your legacy?
A: Not necessarily. Not yet. I do what Hurdle always says and just take it day by day. That's how you create a legacy. I try not to think about years down the road because you don't know if that's promised. I focus on the now. A legacy will create itself.
Q: Do you want to be known for something else beyond being the Pirates center fielder?
A: I always say that's the type of person I want to be. Look at Derek Jeter. His career is done. When you think about Jeter, of course you think about the championships, the All-Star Games, the Gold Gloves and being in a Yankees uniform for his entire career. People who know him always seem to say he was a great player, but he was an awesome person, too. People say the same thing about Roberto Clemente — an awesome player and an even better person. That's something I want to have. Ballplayers are human, too. We want to be know for more than just our job.
Q: When you first got here, some folks wanted you to be the next Barry Bonds. Was that something you thought about?
A: The game is all about comparing. It comes time for contracts, you say, "Well, I'm like this guy, so I deserve this much money." When somebody is coming up through the system, you'll always say, "He reminds me of this or that person." But me, I'm my own person, just like Barry Bonds was his own person. I'm going to create my own legacy. Fifteen or 20 years down the road, I don't want people to say I reminded them of this or that guy. I want them to say, "He was Andrew McCutchen." Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter. Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. That's the way I look at it. I want to be my own person because that's who I am. I'm not like anyone else.
Q: Your contract is up after 2017, although the Pirates hold an option for 2018. Can you — do you — see yourself wearing a Pirates uniform the rest of your career? Remember, a lot of people have said Jeter was the last superstar who'd start and end his career with one team.
A: This is where I want to be. I don't know anything else outside of here. I think for every player, the dream is being on one team for the rest of their career. That's the way I want to be. I want to be comfortable here. I want to win championships here. I want to raise a family here. I have a lot of history here, since I was 18. A lot of things have happened. I met my wife here. For me to go someplace else and start something new ... I'd rather be here and keep creating history here. I can see that happening. I see things moving in that direction, and I hope it can happen.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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