Pirates offer Morris, chase relievers

Cardinals eye Wilson; Japanese closer on radar

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The Pirates are trying to subtract and add pitching at the same time.

General manager Neal Huntington has made it known to peers that he is open to trading starter Matt Morris, who would consume roughly 20 percent of the franchise's payroll next season with a salary of $9.5 million, plus a $1 million buyout. Such a deal almost surely would require the Pirates to absorb some of that salary.

One possible suitor is St. Louis, which nearly reacquired Morris from the San Francisco Giants at the July 31 trading deadline before the Pirates swooped in at the last minute and offered to pick up his full contract. The Cardinals are seeking veteran starting pitching this offseason and, under the right circumstances, are willing to part with young pitchers such as Anthony Reyes, Tyler Johnson or Brad Thompson to get it.

Moreover, St. Louis has expressed early interest in trading for shortstop Jack Wilson, who is due $14.25 million the next two seasons. The Cardinals are expected to lose their shortstop, David Eckstein, to free agency by not offering him arbitration next month. Multiple needs could result in multi-player trade talks.

Morris had the right to demand a trade within 15 days after the World Series, as per a grandfathered clause in Major League Baseball's previous labor agreement, but he and agent Barry Axelrod informed the Pirates two weeks ago they would not do that. If Morris had demanded a trade, he could have become a free agent March 15 if no deal could be struck and, thus, would have risked losing his large salary for next season.

Meanwhile, the Pirates are "in negotiations" with several free-agent relievers, Huntington said, in an attempt to add late-inning bullpen depth. One target is believed to be Japanese closer Kazuo Fukumori, 31, a right-hander who had a 4.75 ERA last season before having bone chips removed from his elbow in August. He filed for major-league free agency two weeks ago.

Huntington also has cited an upgraded bench and an infusion of prospects as offseason needs.

NOTES -- Starter Shane Youman, designated for assignment last week, was claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday. ... Reliever Josh Sharpless, the other pitcher removed from the 40-man roster last week, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Class AAA Indianapolis. ... The Pirates are expected to announce their first-base coach today.

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


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