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Pirates owner Nutting 'incredibly optimistic' for 2013

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner
In this file photo from February 2013, Pirates Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting talks with general manager Neal Huntington during a visit to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner
Pirates Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting talks with manager Clint Hurdle during a visit to Pirate City Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review Pirates Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting talks with catcher Russell Martin during a visit to Pirate City on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner
Pirates Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting talks with second baseman Neil Walker during a visit to Pirate City Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting speaks during a dedication ceremony at the newly renovated McKechnie Field Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates owner Bob Nutting stressed Wednesday that contract extensions, such as the one given this week to manager Clint Hurdle, are no guarantee unless the team improves.

“The mindset is, we must take a step forward. We expect to win,” Nutting said on the first day of his visit to spring training camp. “The idea that an extension is somehow a free pass is exactly the message that I would not want to send.”

On Tuesday, the Pirates picked up Hurdle's option for 2014 and added a club option for '15.

“We've shown we're willing to make a change if we need to, irrespective of contract terms,” Nutting said. “Clint knows that. Everyone in the organization knows that.”

In October 2009, manager John Russell was secretly given an extension through the 2011 season. The deal finally was announced in June 2010. Four months later — after a 57-105 finish, five fewer wins than in the previous season — Russell was fired with a year left on his contract.

The Pirates went 72-90 in Hurdle's first season and 79-83 last year. Both seasons were marked by second-half swoons that took the club out of the National League Central race.

“Given the improvements with the team — whether at the trade deadline last year, the offseason acquisitions or just the development of our young core of players — I'm incredibly optimistic we're in a position to take another step forward,” Nutting said.

When asked how he would define a “step forward” this season, Nutting said he doesn't have an interim step between another losing season and winning the World Series. The Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992.

“At some point we're going to need to pass through 82 wins,” Nutting said. “When we do, I will celebrate. But it would be an inappropriate target. If that had been the goal, (general manager) Neal (Huntington) would've gone about his work the last five years very differently.”

Huntington's contract also runs through next year with a club option for 2015. Huntington's tenure has had several highlights — the arrival of Pedro Alvarez, the additions of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, a restocked farm system. But the GM also has drawn fire for the controversial military-style training methods for prospects, a succession of poor free agent signings and trades at the deadline last season that may have upset the team's chemistry.

Nutting declined to comment on whether anyone in the front office is in line for extensions.

“Everyone knows what their job is and what we need to get done,” Nutting said. “I have a lot of faith in our management team and in the (club's) direction and improvement. Everyone would like things to continue to improve, and I expect that they will. It's important that I stand behind our management team and support them as long as they are our management team.”

However, Nutting endorsed Huntington's moves at the trade deadlines when the GM resisted the urge to deal away top prospects for high-profile big leaguers.

“What I hope we don't do is mortgage the future for the short term,” Nutting said. “We need to continue to focus on infusing talent in the organization.”

The Pirates will go into this season with a payroll of about $74 million — the largest in franchise history, although it still will be among the smallest in the majors. If the team is in contention, there probably won't be much wiggle room to add a pricey player at the July 31 deadline.

“To some degree, we have front-loaded this year,” Nutting said. “We need to make sure that coming out of spring training we have the very best team we can put on the field. We are not in a position where we've held back and kept a big reserve (of cash). That would be irresponsible. We've got to take a run. We've got to push the chips in early this season.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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