McCutchen awestruck by reunion with Bucs: 'I’m just thankful'

January 21st, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen couldn’t quite find a word to encompass the symphony of emotions that only a moment like this could spark. No one could blame him.

McCutchen has donned the black and yellow countless times. He’s made countless commutes to PNC Park. He's spent countless hours on its field, in its clubhouse and in its dugout. He’s made countless memories for himself and created even more for others, defining the most successful era of baseball in Pittsburgh since Barry Bonds led the team to three straight NL East titles.

McCutchen spent five seasons away from Pittsburgh, away from a franchise he had known for more than a decade. So when he stepped to the podium on Friday, with the return to his first team official, no one could fault McCutchen as he searched for the right way to encapsulate this feeling.

“There’s not one specific word that I can put into describe the euphoric feeling that I have,” McCutchen said. “I’m just thankful.”

That feeling of euphoria, that feeling of unparalleled joy that cannot properly be described, is well-warranted. McCutchen, the best baseball player to put on the black and yellow over the past three decades, is a Pirate once again.

“You don’t always get that chance. For me, I was just hoping that I did get that chance again,” said McCutchen, whose one-year deal is worth $5 million, a source told “This place is a part of me. There’s nothing like it.”

McCutchen, upon being drafted in 2005, wanted to follow in the footsteps of players such as Roberto Clemente and Derek Jeter, the ones who stayed with one team for their entire careers. The business part of baseball prevented that vision from being realized. While McCutchen desired to be a Pirate for life, he expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to return.

On paper, the homecoming has the makings of a farewell season of sorts, an opportunity to finish his career where it started, but McCutchen made it clear that he does not plan for his return to be a “one-and-done.”

“I’m not here as a spokesperson or as a spokesman for the Pittsburgh Pirates,” McCutchen said. “I’m not here on a farewell tour. I’m here to play. I’m here to help this ballclub win, and that’s first and foremost.”

General manager Ben Cherington noted that the team did not offer McCutchen a multi-year deal, when asked, but he does believe McCutchen can continue to play beyond this coming season, citing his sprint speed, bat speed and swing decisions. In terms of how the reunion came about, Cherington said he had always hoped McCutchen would return, but he didn’t want to open the door until the Pirates were certain there was a definite role available.

Cherington mentioned that there are instances in free agency where a team’s discussions with a player hinge on variables falling into place; they did not want to do that song and dance with McCutchen. 

Once the dust on the Pirates’ offseason in large part settled, the two sides began working on a deal. The talks progressed quickly once begun.

McCutchen’s return to Pittsburgh felt destined, but he shared in a video that he did not believe a reunion was in the cards due to the state of the roster. McCutchen’s wife, Maria, convinced McCutchen to reach out to Pirates chairman Bob Nutting, a decision that set the return in motion.

McCutchen expressed that he not only wants to win, but to do so here. The five-time All-Star believes that these young Pirates are capable of playing winning baseball, assessing that the current core is better now than when McCutchen was coming up.

“That’s not dogging anybody, of course, when I first came up, but I just feel like this group of guys, they’re special,” McCutchen said. “The talent is there.”

When asked about Oneil Cruz, in particular, McCutchen instantaneously formed his analysis.

“The guy’s a freak,” McCutchen said. "... You’re at the edge of your seat just to see what he’s going to do. It could be from hitting the ball, running down the line, a hustle double or throwing the ball across the diamond. The guy does it all, and he does it so effortlessly.”

McCutchen, who will spend most of his time at the corner outfield spots and as designated hitter, will also have plenty of opportunities to help the next generation realize its potential. Now 36, he recalled several former Pirates who helped guide him during his early years -- Jack Wilson, Craig Monroe, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Church -- and discussed the possibility of playing a similar mentorship role for the team’s current youth.

“I was grateful and blessed enough to be around guys who were there before me who were able to instill in me some of the things that they learned along the way,” McCutchen said. “It helped me to perform out there on the field. So one thing I that I can do is be able to do the same thing.”