NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pirates further diversified their pitching options Wednesday when they acquired left-hander Andrew Oliver from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for catcher Ramon Cabrera.
The trade, which occurred on the third day of the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, was the third in the past week that brought the Pirates an inexpensive pitcher. The final two spots in the rotation are up in the air, especially because Charlie Morton will not return from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery until at least June.
"We've talked to him about preparing to come to camp to compete as a starter," general manager Neal Huntington said. "If not, we'll look into the bullpen."
Oliver, 25, struck out 112 batters in 118 innings for Class AAA Toledo in 2012 and had a 4.88 ERA. The second-round pick in the 2009 draft previously appeared in the majors in 2011.
Oliver also walked 88 batters in 2012, the second consecutive season in which he has walked at least 80. His walks per nine innings in the minors climbed from 4.9 in 2011 to 6.7 last year.
Cabrera, a 23-year-old switch-hitter, hit .278 in a 2012 season spent mostly in Class AA Altoona. With Class A Bradenton in 2011, Cabrera hit .343 with a .410 on-base percentage.
"We like the arm, we like the fastball, we like the breaking ball, we like how he does things," Huntington said of Oliver. "As tough as it is to give up a young switch-hitting catcher that we like a lot, we felt like Andrew was a good addition to our club."
Agent Scott Boras said the military-inspired training methods the Pirates use with some of their prospects did not factor into first-round pick Mark Appel's decision to return to Stanford.
Boras also said the Pirates had little chance to sign Appel, the eighth overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft.
Appel declined a $3.8 million offer, the most the Pirates could pay under the new CBA without losing a draft pick.
"There was no communication with us" before the selection, said Boras, who advises Appel. "We would have been happy to give them an advance [warning] on that so that they could have used their pick in a way that they wanted to use it. Maybe they would have gone ahead with that anyway but we certainly would have let them know we didn't have a fit there."
Boras said the training methods may cause concern among top draft picks.
"If you're a parent or you're a ballplayer, you're going to make an analysis of what's going on in every organization as far as what they're doing and what they're committed to doing to preserve and advance the interests of the player," Boras said. "When you go to practices that are untested and you go to practices that are certainly not the norm, it's going to raise a level of concern. I think you want to be fair with every team in how you evaluate things. The benefits and detriments certainly need to be looked at."
Pirates owner Bob Nutting recently said the Pirates would cease the military-style drills.
The Pirates have one empty spot on their 40-man roster, allowing them to select a player in today's Rule 5 draft, but their low selection leaves their course of action in doubt.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, we sit 13th," Huntington said. "Our expectation is the guys we like will be off the board before we pick."
Teams that select a Rule 5 player must keep them on their active for the whole season.
Hurdle said he has spoken to free agent reliever Jason Grilli this offseason and the Pirates still had an interest in re-signing him. ... Neil Walker's rehabilitation to recover from a herniated disc in his lower back has progressed well, Hurdle and Huntington said. ... The Pirates might bring Starling Marte home from winter ball early, Huntington said. "We've got to protect him from himself a little bit and we've also got to make sure we protect him for us."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published December 6, 2012 5:00 AM