The Pirates must decide by today whether to exercise or decline catcher Rod Barajas' 2013 contract option, a choice that will influence the way they approach free agency in the offseason.
The Pirates hold a $3.5 million option with no buyout for Barajas, 37, who joined the team in free agency before the 2012 season, but in light of Barajas' performance this past season it is likely the team will decline it. Barajas hit .206 with a .283 on-base percentage with 11 home runs.
"He wanted more from the offensive side," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said shortly before the season ended. "We were hoping for more."
Barajas also threw out only 6 percent of potential base stealers.
The Pirates also have a $700,000 option on Pedro Alvarez, which they will certainly exercise.
If the Pirates decline Barajas' option, they could attempt to bring him back for a lower salary and have him split work with Michael McKenry.
"Is the guy willing to go in with the mindset of, 'OK, I'm not the 100, 120-game guy anymore?' " Hurdle said. "I might be the 60-game guy. I thought it was time to explore that with Rod. He wants to play. I think he understands very well, honestly, at this point in time in his career."
Barajas said he has enjoyed his time with the Pirates but would consider playing closer to the West Coast if the Pirates declined his option. His wife and seven children live in San Diego.
"Am I away from home, that far from home, for another seven and a half months, or do I look into going somewhere a little closer to home?" Barajas said in late September. "That definitely becomes a huge option for me to weigh."
A.J. Burnett, who pitched to Barajas in Toronto, prefers Barajas behind the plate, and Hurdle said the Pirates like the way Wandy Rodriguez pitches when Barajas is catching. James McDonald credited Barajas, a 14-year veteran, with helping him mature and pitching a fantastic first half of the season.
But the Pirates face a payroll increase through arbitration cases, including those of Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones and Neil Walker. A $3.5 million deal for a player who doesn't contribute much offensively might be to steep of a price to pay.
If the Pirates part with Barajas, they face another weak free-agent catching market. A.J. Pierzynski, Mike Napoli and Russell Martin likely will be too expensive for the Pirates, leaving them to choose from the likes of Gerald Laird, Miguel Olivo, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross.
Because of changes in the new collective bargaining agreement, this offseason may be the best time for the Pirates to trade Hanrahan, which they could do in exchange for a catcher.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published October 31, 2012 4:00 AM