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McCutchen: Slump hurts chances for Pirates contract extension

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Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen misses a ball hit for an RBI single by the Cardinals' Yadier Molina during the third inning Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in St. Louis.
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USA Today Sports
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen can't field an RBI single hit by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during the third inning Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — A year ago, Pirates owner Bob Nutting said he hoped Andrew McCutchen remained with the team for the rest of his career. McCutchen echoed that at the start of spring training.

Since then, there has been no movement toward a contract extension. McCutchen is signed through next season, with a club option for 2018.

McCutchen still believes an extension could happen, but he said his poor performance this season hurt his chances.

“Who’s going to want to sign me for the (rest of) my career when I’ve had the year that I’ve had?” McCutchen said. “No one is going to think that. You know what they’re going to think? ‘Trade him. Get him out of here. He doesn’t deserve (an extension).’

“I’ve got to prove — not to (fans), but to the team and to ownership — that I’m able to play out my career at a high level. I didn’t do that this year. I didn’t play at my best level. There are a lot of places I can improve, and I didn’t do that this year.”

McCutchen finished with a .256 batting average and a .766 OPS, both career lows.

In Sunday’s 10-4 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals, McCutchen went 2 for 5 with two RBIs. After he took a called third strike in the fourth inning, he grumbled and waved dismissively at home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

A lot depends on whether management thinks McCutchen’s slump will be a one-time blip in his career. Otherwise, it might make sense to trade the superstar center fielder before his contact is up.

When asked about McCutchen’s future with the Pirates, general manager Neal Huntington was noncommittal.

“It’s fair to say we’ll continue to explore how we get this club back into a postseason hunt,” Huntington said Sunday. “We love this core (of players), and we think we can supplement it. At the same time, if there is a significant move that gives us a better chance to get back to the postseason in 2017 and ideally ’18 and beyond, that’s something we’ll be open to.”

If that answer makes McCutchen edgy, he’s not showing it.

“It’s out of my control, so I don’t think about it, really,” McCutchen said. “I’ve got a year (left) and an option. Anything else is out of my control. If something happens, I’ll turn the page and start a different chapter in my life. I’m not really too focused on what might happen. What I am focused on is what I need to do and what I know I can be.”

An eight-year veteran, McCutchen will turn 30 in a week. He said scuffling has not changed his expectations for next season, but it could alter his offseason training routine.

“The way I think about certain things has got to change, for sure,” McCutchen said. “Instead of crushing these heavy weights, maybe I need to focus a little more on flexibility. That’s what’s going to carry me through the year, as opposed to squatting 400 pounds and then running down the baseline and hurting yourself.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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