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Nutting highlights expectations in address to Bucs

Club chairman emphasizes necessity of building on exciting playoff run of '13

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Baseball players who make early exits from the playoffs have a tendency to avoid watching the rest of the postseason, finding it haunting.

Baseball owners, apparently, are cut from a different cloth. Pirates chairman Bob Nutting watched the team that ousted his club -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- all the way into the World Series, and found it inspiring.

"It stung, because we were so close, and to see them continue on had to be a motivator for everyone here," Nutting said Wednesday morning, shortly after delivering his annual Spring Training address to Pirates players and staff. "That absolutely could've, should've been us, going farther.

"That one extra game -- maybe Game 4 in PNC Park [a 2-1 loss in the potential National League Division Series clincher] more than the final game [the 6-1 loss in St. Louis] -- reinforced what a huge impact one game can have on a franchise. It re-emphasized for every single person in the organization why we need to push forward."

That, in essence, was the message delivered to the troops by Nutting in the highlight of his brief sojourn to Pirate City. That, and the vitality of appreciating and rewarding the role fans have played in the team's resurgence.

"The fan response to the team emphasized for me our responsibility to perform every day, every inning, every at-bat. I shared that with the guys," said Nutting, who has been making these speeches every spring of his ownership, but never one quite like this.

None had ever followed a 94-win season.

"It is different this year," Nutting said. "The whole level of expectation has changed. And we need to move forward, get better. We can't be satisfied. Every team in baseball is now aware of us."

In an 18-minute on-field session with media following his meeting with the team, Nutting touched on numerous issues affecting his baseball team.

One subject he was not prepared to discuss were the long-term futures of manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington, both entering the final years of their contracts, which include options for 2015. Most significantly, following Atlanta's extension on Wednesday of Fredi Gonzalez, Hurdle is one of three Major League managers without a 2015 guarantee (the others being Texas' Ron Washington and Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke).

"I have tremendous respect and affection for both. What they have done for this organization is tremendous, and I hope they will be with the organization for a long time," Nutting said. "But this early in Spring Training is not the right time for that discussion. Having talked with both, I know it's not the first topic on anybody's mind."

The main topic of conversation at the Tuesday night dinner shared by the men, presumably, was how well the team is positioned to satisfy the higher expectations it faces.

"But I'm very enthusiastic about the team we have to put on the field, very enthusiastic about our starting rotation," Nutting said. "There are areas we've talked about building more, but we are in a strong position to put out a team that can excel. Never satisfied, very enthusiastic -- that's me. We'll never go on auto-pilot. We demand commitment to constant improvement.

"The expectations are great, but that just brings them in line with the expectations we've always had, There is no doubt ... nobody has any question about the future and the goal of this organization. We're absolutely committed, with single-minded focus, on moving beyond the success of last year."

Nutting fielded numerous inquiries relating to the Pirates' payroll and its level of flexibility, given the success at the PNC Park gate and the increase in the share of MLB's national television package.

• On the TV money, a hot-button topic all winter:
"There are a lot of variables [a slice of each team's share will be funneled to MLB's central fund, for instance], but we're not focused on the total dollars, but on making absolutely efficient use of the dollars we are getting."

• On adding payroll, through player acquisition, in the six weeks remaining in Spring Training:
"Nothing is off the table, but we need to be smart. At what point would we be getting appropriate return? It's situational, and I rely on Neal to make those decisions."

• On adding payroll at the Trade Deadline:
"No question, it is easier and more impactful to write an extra check, rather than give up prospects. But I don't want to tie Neal 's hands on that. Yet, we can't lose focus of why we are here [through the help of home-grown prospects]."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
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