Pirates focus on Dotel, dim outlook on Ankiel

Team also interested in free-agent long reliever D.J. Carrasco

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The Pirates have zeroed in on free-agent closer Octavio Dotel, according to multiple sources yesterday, but they might be looking away from outfielder Rick Ankiel.

Dotel is one of several relievers the team has offered a contract, but he is atop their wish list. He is one of only three free-agent closers left, all represented by agent Dan Horwits, along with Jose Valverde and Kevin Gregg. The Pirates made an initial inquiry months ago on Valverde, perhaps the best of the group, but were turned off by the price. They also asked about Gregg in December, but that, according to a source, went little further.

Dotel, 36, has not closed since early 2007, but he was a reliable setup man for closer Bobby Jenks and the Chicago White Sox the past two seasons, with ERAs of 3.76 and 3.32 over 132 appearances. He also maintained a quality strikeout rate -- 10.83 per nine innings -- that indicates he has fended off decline. His career numbers: 3.73 ERA and 83 saves in 122 opportunities.

Dotel made $6 million last season, but he is expected to get less for 2010 and possibly on a one-year contract.

General manager Neal Huntington and Horwits remain in contact, but there was no firm sign yesterday that a deal was imminent.

The other four teams known to be seeking a closer are the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins and Oakland Athletics.

The Pirates also are interested in D.J. Carrasco, another right-handed reliever who pitched for the White Sox last season.

Carrasco, 32, had a 3.76 ERA in 49 appearances last season, and his 89 1/3 innings out of a long role led American League relievers. Chicago, citing budget pressure, declined to tender him an offer toward arbitration in what would have been his first year of eligibility, thus making him a free agent.

Ankiel had been the Pirates' top target among position players, but that no longer seems to be the case even though they remain open to having him.

Ankiel's agent, Scott Boras, is selling his client as an everyday player, and there is cause of Boras' stance despite Ankiel slumping to a .231 average and 11 home runs last season with the St. Louis Cardinals: The previous year, Ankiel batted .264 with 25 home runs and 71 RBIs, he is a superb defender, and he is 30 years old.

The Pirates' stance is that they are not promising any free-agent position player a starting job.

Their preference is to go with an outfield, left to right, of Lastings Milledge, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, while giving Jeff Clement a legitimate chance to play first base. And, in the highly expected event that top prospects Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata arrive in 2010, they want to be able to adjust without dealing with a large contract.

The only other team known to be in pursuit of Ankiel is Kansas City -- and the Royals were reported last night to be close to signing Scott Podsednik instead -- though many others surely have inquired.

Other corner outfielders still on the market include Xavier Nady, Ryan Church, Rocco Baldelli, and most of those continue to push for everyday duty. One free agent in whom the Pirates are not interested is Jonny Gomes, recently released by the Cincinnati Reds.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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