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Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Owner Bob Nutting believes the Pirates are better now than they were a year ago and vowed the team's budget will be big enough to make them even better.

"We're in a great position right now," Nutting said Monday during a stop at spring training. "We are not handcuffed to where we have to make moves we don't want to make or we are unable to make moves we do want to make, purely because of financial reasons."

Payroll this season for the 40-man roster will be around $45 million, which will be among the lowest in the majors. The figure likely will go up, as many of the younger players, such as Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata, approach arbitration and free agency.

"As the players mature, we certainly believe we need to hold on to and sign some of these core players for a long term," Nutting said. "Those are important steps that will come as we move forward."

Nutting also said the Pirates, who have the first overall pick in the draft, will not be limited by monetary concerns. Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, considered by some scouts as the best player available, will be advised by hard-line agent Scott Boras.

"We certainly will not be in a position where we select based on dollars or signability," Nutting said. "We're going to select for the greatest impact."

Nutting spoke to the players yesterday for about 15 minutes during a closed-door team meeting.

"The message this year was a change in level of expectation," Nutting said. "It's critically important that they understand that 2011 is not going to be a year where small bits of incremental progress are adequate. Until we win a National League championship, we're not going to be satisfied with incremental progress."

Nutting made it clear last year's 57-105 record was unacceptable but did not quantify what progress means for this year.

"Whether it's (winning) five more games or 20 more games, I don't think a number is critical," he said. "What's important is we have a clear goal and we remain focused (on it)."

The rewards for making progress are obvious: longer contracts, bigger salaries and such. But Nutting did not specify what the ramifications will be -- for the front office as well as the players and coaches -- if progress is not made.

"It's not the right time to start speculating on 'what if we fail,'" Nutting said. "I saw the story about (general manager Neal Huntington's) contract terms. That's not productive. That's not the right use of energy. That's not the right place for us to focus as an organization."

Huntington's contract expires after this season and no extension has been offered. Saturday, team president Frank Coonelly said Huntington's status will be evaluated during the year.

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Pirates Spring Training 2011

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