Duke signs contract, Jackson designated, and outfielder Jones claimed
January 20, 2010 3:00 PM
The Pirates and pitcher Zach Duke agreed to a one-year contract worth $4.3 million.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pirates and starter Zach Duke yesterday avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $4.3 million that nearly doubled his previous pay.
And that was only part of what promises to be a busy week of transactions.
Later in the afternoon, general manager Neal Huntington claimed outfielder Brandon Jones off waivers from the Atlanta Braves, although that addition might not last.
Then, late in the evening, Huntington designated for assignment reliever Steven Jackson, meaning the team has 10 days to trade, waive or release him.
All together now: Octavio Dotel.
First, about the 40-man roster ...
The Jones claim was able to occur even though the 40-man roster appeared full but, as it turned out, Major League Baseball and the players' union had not yet processed the paperwork for the week-old agreement with free-agent outfielder Ryan Church. Thus, the roster was officially at 39 before Jones was added and, after Church's contract was approved and Jackson was designated, it was back at 40.
But not for long.
The Pirates remain close to an agreement with Dotel, the right-handed veteran who would be their closer, and that could happen this week, meaning another roster spot will be needed soon.
Huntington was engaged in talks yesterday aimed at another trade similar to the Brian Bixler exchange with the Cleveland Indians two days ago that returned prospect Jesus Brito. It would not involve any of the Pirates' key players, but Huntington's obvious preference would be to get something in return for any player.
This is where Jones enters the equation.
The Pirates choose second in the waiver order, and they gauged that there might be interest in Jones among the 28 teams behind them. So, they claimed him with the hope of including him in a trade, perhaps a two-for-one or three-for-one that would remedy the roster issue and add talent. Jackson surely is one of the pieces involved.
If the Pirates cannot trade Jones, they might welcome giving him a chance, even though their outfield has plenty of quantity with eight outfielders already competing for five jobs this spring.
Jones, 26, was Atlanta's No. 4 prospect in the Atlanta system in 2007 according to Baseball America but showed little the past two years and appeared in only five games for the Braves last season. In 51 games for Atlanta over three seasons, he batted .257 with a home run and 22 RBIs. With Class AAA Gwinnett last season, he batted .281 with seven home runs and 57 RBIs.
Huntington, reached early in the evening, said of Jones: "We think Brandon is an intriguing guy, someone who's shown good upside in the past. We took a shot that he might benefit from a change of scenery."
Because of the lateness of Jackson's designation, Huntington was not immediately available on that topic.
Jackson, a 27-year-old right-hander, had a 3.14 ERA through 40 appearances for the Pirates, and his designation was a surprise in that manager John Russell leaned on him almost exclusively in tough situations that required a ground ball or double play. Jackson had control issues -- 22 walks vs. 21 strikeouts -- but he also had a 2.20 ERA in his final 29 appearances, and he allowed only six of 22 inherited runners to score.
Duke, 26, made $2.2 million last season in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He has one more year of arbitration and can become a free agent after the 2011 season.
Noon yesterday was baseball's deadline for teams and players to exchange salary figures toward an arbitration hearing, but the Pirates, Duke and Mark Pieper, Duke's agent, reached agreement in the morning.
Over the weekend and into Monday, there had been skepticism on that front.
"We're pleased that we were able to avoid the arbitration process," Huntington said.
Duke was not available for comment.
He had been the Pirates' only remaining arbitration-eligible player.