Pirates in talks with free-agent outfielder Church

Fits team's desired profile, could play regularly if needed

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The Pirates are in talks with free-agent outfielder Ryan Church.

Church, 31, is coming off a 2009, split between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, in which he batted .273 with four home runs and 40 RBIs in 111 games. He was non-tendered by Atlanta management after making $2.8 million, as he surely would have gotten a raise through the arbitration process. He was hampered much of the past summer by a sore back caused by an aggravated sacroiliac joint.

Church appears to fit the Pirates' profile for their primary position-player need, in that they seek a reserve outfielder capable of stepping into everyday duty if needed: Church, a left-handed batter, is versatile, sound defensively, and his career splits -- he bats .280 vs. right-handed pitchers, .248 vs. left-handers, with 43 of his 51 home runs, -- probably would work best in a platoon or bench role.

It became known last week that the Pirates were backing off Rick Ankiel, but they might see Church as just as attractive an option, maybe more so if he is enthusiastic about buying into the role they have in mind. Jose Tabata, the organization's top outfield prospect, could make it to the majors in 2010, and they do not want anyone blocking him -- nor an onerous contract -- once he arrives. Ankiel's agent, Scott Boras, is selling his client to suitors as an everyday player despite his coming off a down year in St. Louis.

The Pirates have had extensive conversations with Church, but steps remain before any agreement is in place

Check PBC Blog for details and updates.

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


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