LAS VEGAS -- Ronny Paulino wanted out of Pittsburgh and, once he performed well enough to impress other teams, the Pirates obliged him.
In a swap of catchers, Paulino last night was traded to Philadelphia for Jason Jaramillo, a 26-year-old who entered this past season ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the Phillies' system but was blocked at the top level by Carlos Ruiz and Lou Marson. A switch-hitter, Jaramillo batted .266 with eight home runs, 20 doubles and 39 RBIs and was an International League all-star. His career totals in the minors: .272 with 29 home runs in 479 games.
Jaramillo never has played in the majors, but Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said he will compete with Robinzon Diaz in spring training to back up Ryan Doumit.
"We like the way he catches and throws, we think there's some upside, we like the person, and we think he's a good complement to Doumit," Huntington said. "With Diaz, we now have the ability to take the guy who earns that job and runs with it."
Huntington said Pirates manager John Russell was instrumental in the trade. Russell was Jaramillo's manager with Class AAA Ottawa in the Philadelphia system in 2007.
Paulino, 27, fell out of favor with management this past season after Doumit beat him out for starting duty, batting .212, failing to maintain a weight that would allow consistent defense and, ultimately, getting demoted to Class AAA Indianapolis in early June. He was recalled in September, but Russell kept him on the bench for all but seven at-bats the entire month.
The negative sentiment became very much mutual.
Paulino, who was not available for comment last night, had made known to management in the fall that he wanted to be traded, aware not only of management's flagging confidence but also that Doumit was the entrenched starter. He shed 10 pounds with what he described in September as "crazy exercise," then tore up the Dominican Winter League by batting .310 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 19 games until shutting it down last week.
"He was mashing the ball," said Rene Gayo, the Pirates' Latin American scouting director.
Evidently, teams noticed, as no fewer than "a half-dozen" had contacted the Pirates about him, Huntington divulged.
"This was a situation where it probably was better for Ronny to move on and get a better opportunity," Huntington said. "When Jaramillo's name came up, it was a good fit for us."
It was the Pirates' first and, in all likelihood, only move of these Winter Meetings that conclude today at the Bellagio hotel.
"You never say never, but that's probably it," Huntington said.
On other fronts:
• The Pirates' brass had a face-to-face meeting with Paul Cobbe, Doumit's agent. The team has approached Doumit, center fielder Nate McLouth and starter Paul Maholm with offers to negotiate multiyear extensions.
• The Pirates inquired with the Florida Marlins about shortstop Robert Andino, a 24-year-old blocked by young star Hanley Ramirez, but talks never became substantive. Other shortstops of that type also have been explored, as the Pirates brace for a possible Jack Wilson trade.
• Not much happened involving Wilson, even as other teams fill shortstop needs by the day. Only the Minnesota Twins are known to be interested, but the Los Angeles Dodgers could come back if their bid to re-sign free agent Rafael Furcal falls short.
• Scuttlebutt among agents was that, if Wilson is not moved, second baseman Freddy Sanchez could go. But the Pirates are adamant that is not the case and that, if no suitable deal can be found for either player, the middle infield will remain intact. The team's stated belief is that it is on firm enough financial footing to handle all current contracts.
• Huntington said a free-agent signing still was a possibility soon: "We're in a position where we might get something done quickly, but we know we're not alone on the player." That player was not infielder David Eckstein.
• The New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals made inquiries about closer Matt Capps, but there was no indication of anything serious. Teams also have asked about McLouth, Maholm and Doumit, the rest of the Pirates' so-called big four. "We've been hit on all of those guys," Huntington said. Asked if teams mostly ask about players he does not want to give up, Huntington replied, "Exactly."
The Meetings wrap up, as always, with the Rule 5 draft that begins at noon, and the Pirates might take a player. Huntington said he and his staff have narrowed their focus to two, either of whom they can be sure to take with the fourth overall pick.
Possibilities include right-handed starter Matt Torra, 24, Arizona's first-round pick in 2005 who went 10-10 with a 3.78 ERA in 26 starts last season in Class AA and AAA. Another, should the Pirates target a shortstop, is Hainley Statia, 22. He batted .242 for the Los Angeles Angels' class AA affiliate but is considered solid defensively.
The Pirates' most likely loss in the Rule 5 will be Kyle Bloom, a 25-year-old who is considered by Baseball America to be one of the two best left-handed starters available in the draft. Bloom was ordinary with Class AA Altoona but had an outstanding Hawaiian Winter League season.
A team must pay $50,000 to claim a player, then keep him on its 25-man roster all season to retain his rights.
NOTES -- Jaramillo was added to the 40-man roster, which still has two openings heading into Rule 5 ... Jaramillo has two options remaining. Paulino has one. ... Catcher Raul Chavez, cut from the 40-man roster last week, refused his outright assignment to Indianapolis and declared himself a minor league free agent, but Huntington stressed that he would like to bring back Chavez. ... The final offer the Pirates made to Detroit involving Wilson, late last week, sought shortstop prospect Danny Worth and one of the Tigers' top pitching prospects. Money was involved, too. The Tigers never responded before turning their attention and, ultimately, signing free agent Adam Everett.
First Published December 11, 2008 5:00 AM