BRADENTON, Fla. -- Much of the conversation around the Pirates over the last month has been about what they lost, not what remains -- about a roster without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, a projected payroll cut by at least $15 million and a team with seemingly little chance to
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Much of the conversation around the Pirates over the last month has been about what they lost, not what remains -- about a roster without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, a projected payroll cut by at least $15 million and a team with seemingly little chance to contend in the National League Central division.
The talk from the Pirates, however, has been markedly more introspective and optimistic. That was manager Clint Hurdle's tone as he addressed the media on Wednesday following Pittsburgh's first Spring Training workout for pitchers and catchers.
• Spring Training info | Schedule | Tickets
"We believe we can win games. We're here to win games," Hurdle said. "We're also here to grow together. It's an opportunity for a new era of Pirates baseball, as I've said. When Andrew walks out, it's a new era. … We've never told them it's going to be easy, but it's going to be so worth it in the end when we do win."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
That metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel is part of what motivated Hurdle to sign a four-year extension with the Pirates last September. The next month, they charted a course that led them away from McCutchen and Cole, two franchise cornerstones, and toward the young group that's filling up the Pirate City clubhouse.
Sean Rodriguez, one returning veteran who was particularly close with McCutchen, said Wednesday those trades "hurt" initially and during the "grieving period" that followed. But he now echoes Hurdle's hopeful point of view.
"I still feel like they made moves that will help us win, whether some believe it or not. I know a lot of fans feel a little sour, and I don't blame them," Rodriguez said. "You can't see two guys like that go and not feel remorse and not feel like we're not trying. But I don't ever feel like we can't win."
• Rodriguez arrives healthy after offseason work
In offseason conversations with teammates and general manager Neal Huntington, Rodriguez often brought up his experience with the 2011 Rays. After winning the American League East in 2010, Tampa Bay lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and more while shedding $30 million in payroll. Their season ended with Evan Longoria's famous Game 162 home run, 91 wins and an American League Division Series appearance.
"I don't see why we can't make it happen with who's here," Rodriguez said. "If we can get 39 other guys pulling together, it doesn't matter who your personnel is. You can win; '11 proved that."
It's not a matter of "if" for Hurdle, either.
"The place is going to explode when we win it all," he said. "I still believe that. I looked for the opportunity to stay and be a part of that. That's unwavering belief. … We're going to win. We're going to win further than we have in the past. A world championship is why you tee this thing up every spring."
It's not as if the Pirates broke up a postseason team. They won 78 games in 2016 and 75 last year. Nor did they sell off every player of value. They kept Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli, Jordy Mercer, Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Felipe Rivero, among others.
"I just love the makeup of this room and I love the skill-set of this room," Hurdle said. "If you're not good, you can't play well. That makes a big difference. I believe we're good and we can play well."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.