Cutch ready to put turbulent offseason in past

After tough 2016, Pirates star was subject of widespread trade speculation

Cutch ready to put turbulent offseason in past

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andrew McCutchen made it clear Friday morning: Moving out of center field was not his preference or his decision, but he has come to accept the position change after a turbulent offseason.

Before swatting line drives, fielding a few batting-practice fly balls in right field and flashing his trademark smile during the Pirates' first full-squad workout, McCutchen addressed the media for more than 15 minutes. He discussed the switch to right field, the offseason full of trade rumors and the lengthy slump he endured in the worst season of his career.

More than anything, McCutchen is ready to move on from all of it.

Hurdle on McCutchen to right

"Looking forward to just getting out on the field and playing. I know you're all sick of hearing about everything that's happened -- and I am, too," McCutchen said. "I'm ready to get my feet out there. Ready to show that this is just the beginning of some good stuff."

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During the Winter Meetings a little more than two months ago, McCutchen began to believe he might not even make it to Pirate City this season. That's how persistent the trade rumors were -- it seemed the Bucs were poised to send out their franchise player. But the Pirates never found an acceptable deal, so they opted to keep McCutchen.

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"It didn't affect me in any way negative. I understand that all that's a part of the game," McCutchen said. "You just have to accept that. It's part of it. … Just have to focus on what I can focus on. For me, that was the offseason and getting prepared."

The club threw one more curveball at him earlier this month, however. After spending all offseason deliberating their optimal outfield alignment, the Pirates announced their decision on Feb. 6: Starling Marte would be the new center fielder, Gregory Polanco the left fielder and McCutchen the right fielder for the first time.

Huntington on Cutch's move to RF

They explained the argument and backed it up with data, including Statcast™ metrics that show McCutchen was better going to his right than his left last season. But the news initially didn't sit well with the 2013 National League MVP Award winner.

"Andrew played some of the best center field he's ever played last season," manager Clint Hurdle said. "This is more a case of us having one of the elite defenders in the game [Marte] on our team. How do we best make our team better?"

Previously, McCutchen had been told that the Pirates would allow him to set the timeline for a move out of center field. In early October, he told he didn't think it was time to do so yet. McCutchen said that his poor performance last year was partly a product of playing shallower than he ever had, another change backed by statistical research.

Only 30 years old, McCutchen believes he can play center field. He wasn't ready to move, but the decision was taken out of his hands.

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"It was more, 'This is something you have to do.' It wasn't an ask," McCutchen said. "It was more of [the team saying] that I have to move there and it's for the betterment of the team. That's one of the first times where that's something I wanted to go against.

"But as I'm saying that, I'm talking about myself. I had to not be as selfish and just accept that's what I have to do and move over to right."

McCutchen said the new assignment "should be a breeze" given the dimensions of PNC Park's right field, and the idea of following in his idol Roberto Clemente's footsteps excites him. After the changes were announced, McCutchen -- a Roberto Clemente Award winner -- tweeted a photo of Clemente walking out to right field.

"Once I got over the fact that I had to move, the more I started to look at it, get some positivity out of it, that's one way to look at it," he said. "Clemente set the standard for someone I would love to be like -- at least half that guy. It's an honor to be out there playing in that position."

Between downtime with his wife, Maria, and their first trip to Europe, McCutchen spent the offseason working to get stronger and faster. After a career-worst offensive season in which he never felt like himself, McCutchen said he "threw the bat down" and reset himself mentally.

"That's all I'm trying to do this whole offseason was to get myself back to where I was, and I feel like I did that," McCutchen said. "I learned from it, took some good, took some bad, tried to make myself a better player."

McCutchen will be one of the most closely watched players in baseball this spring. Will he bounce back offensively? How is his relationship with the Pirates? Will he be traded if Pittsburgh falls out of contention this year?

McCutchen would like to be a Pirate for life, as he's often said. But for now, he's not worrying about his future in Pittsburgh.

"I try to focus on right now, because if I start thinking of everything else, I'm not going to be able to focus on what's in front of me," McCutchen said. "Who knows what's going to happen or transpire years from now? We don't know. You can't let that get in the way of what you have in front of me."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.