Hot Stove: LaRoche remains hot topic with Pirates ... including players

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Yesterday marked the one-month anniversary of the Atlanta Braves pulling the plug on the trade that would have sent slugger Adam LaRoche to the Pirates for closer Mike Gonzalez.

Just in case anyone who follows the Pirates needed to be reminded.

Or, for that matter, anyone on the inside.

Members of management continue to speak -- albeit not publicly -- in a fingers-are-crossed tone that a deal still might happen. And the players are no less absorbed, so many of them communicating about it by phone, e-mail or text messages.

The sentiment among several key players is that general manager Dave Littlefield should make a serious push to get LaRoche.

"You can quote me on this," shortstop Jack Wilson said Thursday from his home in Arizona. "Adam LaRoche is a team-changing player."

What are the Pirates' chances of adding LaRoche and his 32 home runs, 90 RBIs and terrific defense?

Under the current circumstances, they appear poor.

The Braves admire Gonzalez, but they showed he is not enough. They seek a leadoff-hitting second baseman, but the Pirates have no such player, and the new view in Atlanta is that youngster Kelly Johnson might fill that role. The Braves would love a center fielder to replace Andruw Jones someday, but that, too, seems out as the Pirates have little interest in giving up Chris Duffy.

The only answer, it appears, is for the Pirates to trade one of their young starting pitchers: Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm or Tom Gorzelanny. But there again, they have made abundantly clear they have no wish to do so.

So ...

The sides still are talking about LaRoche, two Pirates officials confirmed in the past week. As long as that is the case, a deal is not dead.

Buried treasure

Wilson vowed after last season, one in which he committed a career-high 18 errors, to shed weight and improve his agility. So far, through a diverse training regimen, he has lost 12 pounds and, more important in his eyes, strengthened his ankles and calves. "That's the key," he said. "You've got to get that first step."

Of his subpar defensive showing, Wilson said: "I was so out of whack. I was timid in the way I approached a ground ball, and it showed. I really felt I let my team down for the main reason that I'm there, and I have a lot of making up to do. I need to regain the trust of our pitchers."

Another sign that the Pirates will go status quo with the rotation: All that remains among right-handed starters in free agency is Jeff Weaver, Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas Jr. Weaver, a client of super-agent Scott Boras, will seek more than he is worth. Ohka has drawn only marginal interest from the Pirates. Armas is not seen as better than their internal options.

Brian Lawrence? Expect him to wind up in Colorado.

The Pirates' eight arbitration-eligible players have until Saturday to file. All players invariably do so.

The most prominent of those, third baseman Freddy Sanchez, still has not been offered anything longer than a one-year contract.

Jonah Bayliss, a strong candidate for a bullpen spot, has helped his chances with a strong winter in Venezuela: In 24 innings for Caribes, he has a 2-1 record, 1.88 ERA and 18 strikeouts against nine walks.

Do not rule out that outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' top prospect, could play his way to Pittsburgh at some point next season, even though he will start the season in Class AA. It is a possibility the team is taking seriously.

With no minicamp, the team is inviting several players each week to PNC Park for workouts and checkups. The first phase this month begins tomorrow with eight players, including Gorzelanny, Maholm and catcher Ronny Paulino.

Few Major League Baseball teams in northern cities have players who live there year-round. The Pirates have three: Duke and relievers Salomon Torres and Josh Sharpless.

Forty days until pitchers and catchers report.

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Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at .


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