It is a mystery no more.
The Pirates and free-agent reliever Brendan Donnelly have agreed to terms on a one-year, major league contract pending a physical, a source directly involved in negotiations said yesterday.
Firm financial terms were not immediately available, but it is expected that the salary will be in the range of $1.5 million, with performance bonuses -- based on appearances -- that could nearly double that if maxed out.
Donnelly, 38, had a 1.78 ERA in 30 appearances last season after the Florida Marlins signed him out of the Houston Astros' system in early July. As setup man down the stretch for the contending Marlins, he struck out 25 in 25 1/3 innings, walked nine, and opponents batted .239. His career numbers through 348 appearances, including time with the Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians: 3.02 ERA and a .228 opponents' average.
The risky side: That Florida run represented Donnelly's first meaningful stretch in the majors after Tommy John elbow surgery in 2007. But, in the first half of 2009 before joining the Marlins, he had a 1.75 ERA in 24 appearances for the Astros' Class AAA affiliate in Round Rock, as well as an exceptional rate of 1.09 walks and hits per inning pitched.
The Pirates' 40-man roster is full, so moves are required before Donnelly and Octavio Dotel, another free-agent right-hander who is close to signing, can be added. It is believed that general manager Neal Huntington is trying to trade a fringe player or two before designating any for assignment.
The Post-Gazette reported Wednesday that management was working to sign three right-handed relievers, but Dotel and D.J. Carrasco were the only ones identified. Carrasco formally signed his minor league contract yesterday one year with base pay of $950,000, plus as much as $250,000 in bonuses based on appearances.
The Dotel agreement remains highly expected to occur, though Donnelly could come first.
Carrasco's addition might make another long reliever, Chris Jakubauskas, one of those seen as expandable from the 40-man.
The Pirates finished 2009 with the majors' youngest roster, but their bullpen is shaping up to change that in a hurry: In addition to Donnelly, who would be the team's oldest player, Dotel is 36, and Carrasco and recently signed left-hander Javier Lopez are 32. The only pitchers under 30 certain to make the bullpen are right-handers Joel Hanrahan, 28, and Meek, 26.