'It's a new day' for Pirates with McCutchen, Chapman

February 17th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When first went over to the Yankees in September of 2018, he remembers being, perhaps more than anything else, hungry. He had a long day before, and in the hustle of moving to a new team, he needed to sit down to eat.

As he got to the cafeteria and walked up to the chefs, he looked over the menu for what he could get. Then, he heard a suggestion.

“Get the sandwich!”

He turned around and it was , an old National League Central foe when the lefty was with the Reds. That was their first interaction as teammates. Now, it’s happening again, this time with McCutchen’s Pirates.

“If someone would have told me 10 years ago that Chapman and I would be teammates and he’d be on the Pirates, I would laugh,” McCutchen said at his locker at Pirate City. “I would have been like, ‘Yeah, right. That will never happen.’ That would be like me saying I’m gonna play for the Reds. Just didn’t seem to make sense. But now that that’s here, that’s where we are. So many years later.

“A lot of things have changed since. It’s a new day, guys.”

Safe to say any beef between the two has long been squashed.

This is year two of McCutchen’s second stint with the Pirates, which officially kicked off on Saturday when he reported to Spring Training. It should be a little different than last season’s homecoming. He’ll still get an outpouring of love from fans, but it’s going to be different than the first home at-bat last April. He’s sitting on 299 career homers, but that next home run will likely be the only big, round number milestone he’ll hit this season.

Different isn’t necessarily better or worse. Just different.

“I think it feels different from the point of, all the guys who were here last year, I see them again this year,” McCutchen said. “It’s not so drastic of a change. Not just for me but for the guys around me. I’m sure there [were] a lot of expectations. Not only from me but from my peers, my teammates, stuff like that. Now that they know me, it makes the clubhouse a little more calm.”

McCutchen’s second return never seemed to be in much jeopardy this winter, with the one holdup seemingly being how his partially torn left Achilles would heal. He’s not going to pretend at 37 that he’s in the best shape of his life, and after an offseason of working out and doing some football drills with his trainer, he feels fine now.

“I still don’t know how I injured this, really,” McCutchen said. “I have no idea. We can say it was running, but most times, people don’t really snap their Achilles running. So I don’t really know. Maybe it was something I had been dealing with already, and the running kind of caused it. I’m not sure. So I just try and prepare myself as much as I can. I’m not really doing anything that I haven’t done in the past. It’s just I’m just being a little more cognizant of this.”

There’s one more thing that’s noticeably different about McCutchen’s second year compared to his first. The team has higher expectations for itself, wanting to compete in 2024.

External projections are not particularly bullish on the team, but McCutchen pointed out that those same projections did not believe the Diamondbacks would go on to win the National League pennant last season. That’s not a shot at the Diamondbacks, but rather a reason for hope for a fellow young team. If they can find themselves and a style of play, McCutchen thinks the Pirates can follow that blueprint.

“I don’t feel like we’re much different than the Diamondbacks in the sense that teams don’t want to play us because we don’t have big names or too many guys who are going to hit 30-40 homers,” McCutchen said. “We’re an offense that works counts, we get on base, we use our legs, we steal bases, we can do a better job of moving runners and getting runners in. That’s the game. It’s never changed. It never will. If we can be consistent with that and use those things to our advantage, we can make a lot of teams not want to play us.”