Duke, Pirates not on rocky arbitration road

Team's All-Star pitcher could double 2009 salary of $2.2 million

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Zach Duke, the Pirates' All-Star starting pitcher in 2009 and their only player eligible for salary arbitration who remains unsigned, does not appear to be on course for a hearing.

The sides are focused, according to multiple sources, on settling amicably on a one-year contract, a term that tends to streamline the process. Management has not offered Duke any multiyear term and apparently has no intention of doing so.

Moreover, there is no trace of the type of large disagreement about the player's value, as there was between management and closer Matt Capps before his release last month.

Duke, 26, is coming off a season in which he went 11-16 with a 4.06 ERA and three complete games, tying Ross Ohlendorf for the staff lead in victories and topping the staff with 213 innings. His loss total was highest in the National League, but he received a total of 23 runs of support in those 16 games.

Duke made $2.2 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility and could double that this time. Teammate Paul Maholm, who has had a similar performance with the Pirates, will make $4.5 million in 2010. That would have been Maholm's second year of arbitration eligibility, except that he and the team agreed to a multiyear extension last winter.

The deadline for the player and team to exchange salary figures toward an arbitration hearing is Jan. 19. Each side submits a desired salary figure, and an independent arbitrator chooses on or the other during the hearings that are conducted Feb. 1-21. Such hearings can be contentious, as teams will push hard to reduce the player's value, and the player often is in the room.

An amicable settlement can be reached at any point before the hearing.

The players' filing period for arbitration is Jan. 5-15, but that is a formality that all eligible players exercise.

NOTES -- Team president Frank Coonelly, in his monthly online chat with fans yesterday, said the Pirates "have made offers to several free-agent players and have continued to have dialogue with other clubs with respect to potential trades." The focus, he said, is on the outfield and bullpen. If an everyday outfielder is acquired, Coonelly added, Garrett Jones would move to first base. Jones will be an everyday player regardless. ... Outfielder Rick Ankiel remains the Pirates' top priority among free-agent position players, but it is believed that there still have not been meaningful negotiations. The Kansas City Royals are the only other team known to be interested. Xavier Nady, another player the Pirates have contacted, also remains available. Ankiel and Nady are represented by super-agent Scott Boras. ... Two more players, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitching prospect Ramon Aguero, committed to attend the voluntary minicamp next week in Bradenton, Fla., raising the total confirmed to 42.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published January 7, 2010 5:00 AM


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