Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen smiles while working out Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
BRADENTON, Fla. — Although the first full-squad workout still is a week away, center fielder Andrew McCutchen already is busy at the Pirates' spring training complex.
Monday morning, McCutchen tugged on a black T-shirt emblazoned with “Retire 21” — a nod to Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente — and went to work in the batting cages with some teammates and a few minor leaguers.
About to embark on his eighth season in the majors, McCutchen has two guaranteed years left on his team-friendly, $51.5 million contract. He's at the peak of his skills and wants to play for several more years.
As he cooled down after his workout, McCutchen took a few minutes to discuss his status in the game and his future, whether it's with the Pirates or another club.
Your T-shirt is asking MLB to retire Clemente's number league-wide. Is the time right for that to happen, especially with the Pirates set to play two games in Puerto Rico this season?
McCutchen: “It's possible. He's meant a lot not only to this franchise but to the game of baseball. It's great to be able to play in his homeland. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been there since I was 11 and I did a Roberto Clemente camp there. Wearing a Pirates uniform now and being able to go back, it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it. It's only going to be a couple of days, but it's going to be worth it.”
Many fans believe a Mount Rushmore of Pirates all-time greats would consist of Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell … and, someday, you.
McCutchen: “Hopefully I can play this game a lot longer. I'm not too focused on those things. It's great that people feel that I belong there. That's cool. But I've still got some time on my side to be able to play this game that I love to play, and hopefully, I can continue excelling on and off the field.”
Each of those guys was a Pirates lifer. Will you play your entire career in Pittsburgh?
McCutchen: “I'm not too focused on it, but definitely I've mentioned it before. I've said it plenty times: This is a place that I'd love to be, a place that I'd love to spend my whole career, win championships and just be here. It doesn't happen a whole lot in this game. But if the opportunity presents itself, that would be great for me, for my wife and, hopefully, one day, God willing, we have a family of our own. So that would be really cool.”
When asked about the possibility of someday getting a $400 million contract, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper said, “Don't sell me short.” That's quite a contrast to your reaction to a similar question at PirateFest, when you said you don't define your worth in terms of money.
McCutchen: “People define us — baseball players, athletes — by our contracts. I think I'm worth more than some numbers that you throw up on a board. Anybody can get paid millions of dollars, but it's what you do with who you are that matters. You may not make that much money, but you can still bring so much to a team, on the field and off the field. My teammates don't define me by how much I sign for. They define me by who I am. They define me by my character. That's worth way more than whatever the dollar sign is or however much you sign for. That's what I feel is most important, as a player and as a person. What am I worth? I'm worth more than just a contract. I'm worth more than just money. That's how I look at myself, and I hope my teammates and the coaching staff look at me like that as well. That's what I was getting to when I said that (at PirateFest). I define my worth by more than money. I don't mean it in a boastful way.”
Last year was a good one for the Pirates, but the outcome was less than what you wanted. The team won 98 games but lost the wild-card game. You finished fifth in MVP voting but were hampered by injuries. How much does that motivate you this spring?
McCutchen: “I'm ready to go, as opposed to last year. That's why I've been here (working out). I'm going to be right and ready to go from spring training into the season. I'm looking forward to getting started. I feel like this offseason flew by. Baseball's back, and I'm looking forward to it. My knee's great, my body's great. I won't have to worry about that at all.
“I'm motivated in the sense that I didn't do … physically, I wasn't where I needed to be at the beginning of the season. There's a lot of things I had to get over and move forward. In this game, things aren't always going to be perfect. You learn from it and get stronger. Getting wiser in the game always helps. I'm looking forward to going out and doing what I know I can do. The great thing is always feeling like I can do better. I'm looking forward to this year just for the fact that I'm 29 years old, but I feel like I'm 22. That's what it's all about — feeling good, feeling young. My teammates and I are going to keep each other young. I'm looking forward to that.”