Hard Sell by Bucs Implies Complications with McCutchen

Moving Andrew McCutchen to right field should’ve been a routine matter; the way the Pirates handled it suggests it may have been anything but.

This is supposed to be the one moment in the baseball season where every team legitimately feels as if this could be their year.

The time when hope springs eternal.

The time when everybody believes, if only momentarily, that the pennant is within reach.

Even the Minnesota Twins.

Leave it to the Pirates, then, to complicate that time-honored dynamic before they’d even waved goodbye to the equipment truck on its way to Bradenton.

The truck departed on Monday, one day after the Pirates had felt compelled to release a statement from Clint Hurdle clarifying why he was about to do precisely what the manager is supposed to be doing all the time.

It read:

“After a detailed evaluation, various considerations and many conversations, we have discussed with each of our outfielders the defensive alignment that we will employ. That alignment will be Gregory (Polanco) in left field, Starling (Marte) in center and Andrew (McCutchen) in right. We believe this alignment will maximize our outfield production.

“Our men were very professional and respectful of the team and each other throughout the process and are selfless in helping us strengthen our team defensively.”

Did all of that really need to be stated for the record? If the Pirates hadn’t already been committed to maximizing their outfield production, what exactly was it they had been trying to accomplish? Was there a doubt about the players’ professionalism, their respect for the team and their teammates previously?

And last but not least, what’s next? A mid-game tweet explaining why someone was lifted for a pinch-runner, perhaps?

If that someone turns out to be McCutchen, maybe.

The intent behind the statement regarding McCutchen’s banishment from center appears to have been to assuage McCutchen’s ego. It reads as if McCutchen was consulted, as if McCutchen had to be sold on the idea — as if McCutchen had to sign off on it before it became Bucco Policy.

The Pirates were prepared to end the McCutchen-In-Center Era after last season; otherwise they wouldn’t have listened to trade proposals for McCutchen in the offseason. Since none of those materialized to the Pirates’ liking, they did the next best thing.

It’s apparently not as simple, however, as the manager writing “9” on the lineup card next to McCutchen’s name instead of “8” — and the player simply playing in the position and batting in the order he’s been told to, as a “selfless” player otherwise might.

McCutchen didn’t hit, throw, catch or run as well as he used to last season. But his body language was likewise an issue. It was, at times, as if the world was coming to an end with each perceived ball that was somehow called a strike (and there were a lot of those).

He had a bad year, relatively speaking. But he looked miserable.

The Pirates need better from McCutchen this season.

And while he’s still capable of providing it at the plate, better won’t happen if his attitude and his approach aren’t altered.

That, perhaps, explains the coddling “process” of the Pirates making a move that had to be made, one that should have been obvious, especially to those most directly involved.

Marte and Polanco are no sure bets in their new positions. But the days of McCutchen too often not getting to balls and throwing to the wrong base had to come to an end.

How this all plays out remains to be seen. But it’s going to take more than McCutchen tweeting a picture of Roberto Clemente to convince everyone McCutchen is truly on board with what should be perceived as a demotion, one that isn’t likely to improve McCutchen’s mood or outlook if he perceives it as such.

The Pirates will simply have to hope for the best in left, right and center.

With spring training about to open, they ought to be hoping — at least temporarily — for so much more.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section