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McCutchen's status a hot topic at PiratesFest

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- With the Winter Meetings drawing near, the buzz at PiratesFest on Saturday at PNC Park was less about what the Pirates should bring in and more about who they shouldn't move out. Namely, Andrew McCutchen.

Pirates management held two question-and-answer sessions with fans and a handful of players met the media during Saturday's events. Fans' questions focused on keeping McCutchen, bound to be the subject of more trade rumors next week, and players offered a sense of satisfaction with the group they have despite last season's disappointing 75-87 record.

PITTSBURGH -- With the Winter Meetings drawing near, the buzz at PiratesFest on Saturday at PNC Park was less about what the Pirates should bring in and more about who they shouldn't move out. Namely, Andrew McCutchen.

Pirates management held two question-and-answer sessions with fans and a handful of players met the media during Saturday's events. Fans' questions focused on keeping McCutchen, bound to be the subject of more trade rumors next week, and players offered a sense of satisfaction with the group they have despite last season's disappointing 75-87 record.

"As of right now I don't think we need anything," closer Felipe Rivero said.

"I don't think there's any drastic changes we need," added starter Jameson Taillon. "I think we need to own up and play better, to be honest."

Tweet from @Pirates: Nbd...just hanging with @JTaillon19#PiratesFest pic.twitter.com/gVP6Jmv5Zb

Veteran utility man Sean Rodriguez said the Pirates could add to their roster, but he wondered if they would have to subtract players (and payroll) to do so.

"Are we getting rid of guys? Are we trying to get back? I understand the whole business side, where it's, 'This guy is making this much and we can get [something in return],'" Rodriguez said. "If we're trying to do that, it's tough to say what we would need."

With payroll obligations already pushing $100 million or more, could the Pirates afford to add around McCutchen again without cutting off another core piece? Team president Frank Coonelly acknowledged the club's small-market limitations, putting the onus on himself for not generating more revenue, but he told fans their payroll is "not stuck at any artificial number."

Rodriguez went out of his way to say he was not criticizing general manager Neal Huntington, who reacquired Rodriguez in August. He pointed to Starling Marte's suspension as a major issue for the Bucs in 2017, and manager Clint Hurdle stressed the idea that absences and injuries -- including Marte, Jung Ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco -- were the primary cause of Pittsburgh's second straight sub-.500 season.

But Rodriguez said the lack of a consistent core was also an issue in 2016, when the Pirates finished 78-83. They traded second baseman Neil Walker and non-tendered first baseman Pedro Alvarez before that season, and then dealt closer Mark Melancon before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"A big piece of the core was chipped off," Rodriguez said. "It plays a huge factor. You can't eliminate something that's moving in a certain direction and take a big piece off of it. Can it work? Sometimes, but it's a low percentage. That's just the way it is.

"Hopefully, we've got enough building up that core that it doesn't matter. That's what my mindset is -- to keep that core strong under any circumstances, those pillars that are holding everything up."

Video: Rodriguez discusses playing hurt last season

The longest-standing pillar in Pittsburgh's clubhouse is McCutchen, who will earn $14.5 million this season on a club option. McCutchen will be a free agent this time next year, and Huntington reiterated on Saturday the challenges of extending McCutchen while fielding a competitive team. They entertained offers for him last offseason and figure to do so again next week at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

But the Pirates could bet on better health and improvements from within -- especially from their young pitching staff -- and hang on to McCutchen heading into next season.

"I guess that's on us, then, to win," Rodriguez said. "If you're winning, they try to hold on."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen