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Pirates notebook: Nutting doesn't fret team being outspent

| Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, 7:15 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting talks with manager Clint Hurdle during a visit to spring training on Feb. 23, 2016, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Although the Pirates were dramatically outspent by their NL Central rivals this past offseason, chairman Bob Nutting does not believe his team is being outmaneuvered.

“I don't have any concern we're facing a battle we can't win,” Nutting said Wednesday. “I think this is a group that's proven we can succeed in a very challenging division, in a very challenging sport.”

Over the winter, the Chicago Cubs laid out $276.25 million for their top four free agent pickups. The St. Louis Cardinals spent $108.5 million on four players.

Six other big league clubs spent at least $175 million on the free agent market.

The Pirates made five significant signings — pitchers Neftali Feliz, Ryan Vogelsong and Juan Nicasio; and infielders Sean Rodriguez and John Jaso — at a total cost of $19.4 million.

With an expected Opening Day payroll of about $96.7 million, the Pirates rank 23rd among the 30 major league teams.

The Pirates began last season with an $88.5 million payroll, according to figures obtained by the Associated Press. They won 98 games — their most victories since 1991 — and earned a NL wild-card berth.

The Cardinals ($123 million payroll in 2015) won the division title. The Cubs ($122 million) beat the Pirates, 4-0, in the wild-card game. The Cubs made it to the NL Championship Series, where they were eliminated by the New York Mets.

After their spending spree, the Cubs are rated as favorites to win the division this year. Most analysts expect the Pirates to finish third and be on the bubble for a wild-card spot.

Could general manager Neal Huntington have spent more cash in the offseason for player acquisitions? Nutting's answer was evasive.

“We use the word ‘opportunistic,' ” Nutting said. “(Huntington) does a calculus each time he makes a move to make sure we're doing everything we can to maximize short-term impact, long-term impact.

“We make sure we're doing the right thing for the club to build strength on the field as well as to build strength throughout the organization.”

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has two seasons left on the $51.5 million contract he signed in March 2012. McCutchen recently said he wants to end his career with the Pirates, but Nutting stopped short of saying he's willing to put up enough cash to work out a contract extension.

“We are committed to try to find an opportunity,” Nutting said. “There is no one who we'd like to have for a career in a Pirates uniform more than Andrew.”

CBA talks in progress

Nutting said commissioner Rob Manfred has asked owners for input as MLB hammers out a new collective bargaining agreement with the Players' Association.

“(Manfred) has done a really good job … giving us an opportunity to express concerns, directions, ideas,” Nutting said. “The (negotiating) team he has put together will be able to pull those pieces together to ensure competitive balance and access to (amateur) talent — those issues are critical for the Pirates — and build those into a larger package of proposals.”

Planet of the aches

Trainer Todd Tomczyk said Gerrit Cole is able to throw off the mound with “no restrictions, no reservations.” … Cory Luebke is limited to flat-ground throwing because of a strained right hamstring. He was injured Saturday during fielding drills. … Third baseman Jung Ho Kang took indoor batting practice with bench coach Dave Jauss making batting practice-speed throws. Kang has not been cleared to face live pitching on the fields. … Outfielder Antoan Richardson (broken foot) is “healed,” Tomczyk said, but he is not yet ready for agility drills.

Around the horn

A thunderstorm forced practice to be moved indoors Wednesday. “It kept us from doing a couple of things, but I thought we absolutely maximized our opportunity. It was a good day,” manager Clint Hurdle said. … MLB Network will televise three live Pirates spring training games: March 4 vs. the Minnesota Twins, March 11 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays and March 30 vs. the Boston Red Sox.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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