BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates last night inched closer toward a contract agreement with free-agent reliever Octavio Dotel, with one source directly involved in the talks indicating that only details remained and another saying that "there is no agreement yet."
If it does get done, it is possible, perhaps likely, that Dotel immediately will be named the team's closer.
But for how long?
For the moment, management sees two closer candidates in Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, if not now then into the near future. And, to hear manager John Russell tell it yesterday afternoon following the second day of minicamp, each has what it takes.
"We like the people we have," Russell said. "But determining who will be the closer, those are the kinds of decisions we'll make as we get to spring training and see who we have, who we bring in. I know that we've got guys who can get the job done in the late innings."
First, back to Dotel...
He is 36, right-handed and was an effective setup man for the Chicago White Sox the past two seasons, with ERAs of 3.76 and 3.32 over 132 appearances, with much of that coming in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. For his career, he has a 3.73 ERA and 83 saves, although he has not closed since 2007.
Dotel made $6 million last season, but he is expected to get a one-year contract for significantly less pay this time. The numbers being discussed between the Pirates and Dotel are far less than that, perhaps half as much, even with performance bonuses.
One of the details remaining before the Pirates and Dotel reach agreement is that someone must be removed from the full 40-man roster, perhaps two players. The reason for the second is that management is close to acquiring an additional right-handed reliever on a major league contract, though his identity is not yet known.
As for the two potential closers in the fold ...
Hanrahan, 28, had quite the divided 2009, with a 7.71 ERA as a closer in Washington before being traded, then a 1.72 ERA in 33 appearances in a setup role for the Pirates. Take away his first three appearances with the Pirates, and that ERA is 0.93, fourth-lowest in Major League Baseball in that time.
"When I was in Washington, I went to the field every day wondering, 'I give up a run, am I still going to be here tomorrow?' " Hanrahan said. "With Pittsburgh, I knew they wanted me, and I'd already hit rock bottom, so I went out and cleared my head. I had nothing to lose."
There was something else: Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and catcher Ryan Doumit each urged Hanrahan to rely more on his breaking stuff, which, when finding the strike zone, can be hard to hit.
"In Washington, they were really stressing fastball a lot. Joe just told me, 'If you're getting people out, get them out.' "
Meek, 26, had a 3.45 ERA in his first full season in the majors, with 42 strikeouts in 47 innings, but his season ended seven weeks early because of a strained oblique.
He reported to this camp with 8 pounds of additional muscle, this after vowing late last season -- somewhat playfully -- that he would get back to throwing 100 mph, as he once did in the minors.
"It's been a great offseason," Meek said.
Each, apparently, would welcome the closer's role, but neither sounded terribly distraught about the idea that Dotel might be added.
"Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," Hanrahan said. "I had my struggles with closing in Washington, but it's a challenge I look forward to again someday."
"I'd take any job, whether it's closing or setup, anything I can do to help the team win," Meek said.
There continues to be cordiality in the talks between the Pirates and arbitration-eligible starter Zach Duke toward an amicable settlement, according to two sources, but the settlement itself is not in sight.
Duke made $2.2 million last season in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and he could double that. There was no word on numbers currently being discussed, but one source indicated that the sides might exchange salary figures at the Tuesday deadline.
An arbitrator then chooses one figure or the other in a hearing -- those take place Feb. 1-21 -- though the sides still can settle at any point leading up to that.
With the addition of outfielder Ryan Church, one of Delwyn Young, Brandon Moss or Rule 5 pick John Raynor figures to get squeezed off the bench. Or, it could be someone with a seven-figure contract such as Ramon Vazquez ($2 million) or Bobby Crosby ($1 million), though that is far less likely.
Given Moss' .236 showing in 133 games last season, general manager Neal Huntington was asked if he might be odd one out.
"Not necessarily," Huntington replied. "As we look at the composition of the club, we have competition now. We like John Raynor, and we're excited to see what he can do, but he hasn't been anointed a roster spot all year long. He's got to make the club, as do a lot of other guys competing for bench spots."
Recently acquired reliever Vinnie Chulk had the first injury of minicamp, a sore neck that kept him from making his scheduled pitching session.
The 11 in the second group who pitched for the first time: Javier Lopez, Steven Jackson, Chris Jakubauskas, Anthony Claggett, Jack Taschner, Virgil Vasquez, Ramon Aguero, Bryan Morris, Jeremy Powell, Ronald Uviedo and Justin Thomas.
Another new reliever, Neal Cotts, threw from 90 feet and remains on track to retake the mound in three weeks, right at the common 10-month recovery point from his Tommy John elbow surgery.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 15, 2010 5:15 AM