By John Perrotto
Andrew McCutchen knows there will one thing different about spring training this year when the Pirates convene in Bradenton, Fla., next month.
“Everyone won’t be looking over their shoulder anymore,” the center fielder said. “We have our team now.”
General manager Neal Huntington totally remade the Pirates last season, trading away six players from the starting lineup. He then allowed closer Matt Capps to become a free agent last month by declining to offer him arbitration. Thus, Huntington says the days of non-stop transactions are done.
“You’re never going to be in a situation in baseball where you never change your 25-man roster but the major changes are over,” Huntington said. “We’ll tweak here and there when the need arises and I think that it’s important for the players to know that this is now our team. For the most part, who is here now is going to say here. We’ve been through a lot of instability in the last year and I think everyone can relax a little bit now, put the distractions of last season behind them and concentrate more on playing baseball.”
The Pirates had a hodgepodge of players last season following the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. That caused for some uneasiness in the clubhouse as players got to know each other.
Here is an interesting factoid that explains exactly how much the Pirates have changed in the last year: Just 18 players on the 40-man roster were in their major-league spring training camp in 2009.
“We had guys coming from this team and that team, and it didn’t always feel like we were one team,” McCutchen said. “I don’t mean that because we had bad guys or guys who didn’t care. It was just that we were all getting to know each other and that takes time.”
That is why manager John Russell believes spring training will be so important for his team. It will give the players a chance to finally bond into one cohesive unit. Those six weeks of camp, which includes the boredom and tedium of the same routine day after day, tends to bring players together.
“You’re going to see a big difference with our club after we’ve gone through a spring training together,” Russell said. “Everyone is going to be on the same page, both on and off the day. I really believe it’s going to make a noticeable impact and we’re going to be a much better club because of it.”