On the Pirates: New CBA rules will affect strategies

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When the Pirates make decisions on the routine offseason tasks that face every major league franchise, they will do so against the backdrop of a new set of rules and with the goal of avoiding a third consecutive meltdown.

"We're going to evaluate everything, but there's going to be a more intense focus on the last two months, the last seven weeks, the last 50-some games of baseball where it unraveled for us," general manager Neal Huntington said shortly before the Pirates finished a 79-83 season after having playoff aspirations in August. "We've got to determine why it unraveled, how it unraveled and then, most importantly, how to put ourselves in a position to finish strong next year."

This offseason will feature changes from previous years because of the new collective bargaining agreement. The agreement altered the rules governing free-agent compensation: Teams must give free agents a guaranteed one-year contract that equals the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in 2012 in order to receive a compensatory draft pick.

The agreement also increased the number of players with less than three years of service time who will be eligible for salary arbitration - known as 'Super 2' players.

Finding a new hitting coach after Gregg Ritchie left the organization to take the head coaching job at George Washington University resides near the top of the Pirates' to-do list. Though the team has spent months in preparation, the work begins after the conclusion of the World Series, when teams can begin to sign free agents.

The Pirates will search for help in their starting rotation, at the least. Their free-agent acquisitions before the 2012 season - Erik Bedard, Nate McLouth, Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, signed for a total of $20.75 million - under-performed as a whole.

"We've got to find a way to be one of the most efficient in terms of the returns on the dollars that we spend," Huntington said. "That's a challenge for us. We've made some adjustments as we come forward and we'll continue to make adjustments as we continue to evaluate this free-agent class."

The organization must also decide whether to exercise Barajas' $3.5 million option, for which there is no buyout. The team may decide to decline the option and attempt to bring Barajas back for less money, but Barajas, who has seven children, said he might want to play closer to his San Diego home if the team declines the option.

Later in the winter, the Pirates face as many as eight arbitration cases. Joel Hanrahan and Garrett Jones will receive significant raises. James McDonald, who had an All-Star caliber first half but eventually pitched his way out of the rotation, and Neil Walker, eligible as a Super 2 player, present difficult cases to evaluate and argue.

"We have a pretty good feel for where we feel [the salaries] are going to fall, now we get to hear the agent's side for where they feel it's going to fall," Huntington said.

The Pirates must tender contracts to eligible players by Nov. 30.

In November, the Pirates will set their 40-man roster in advance of the Dec. 6 Rule 5 draft. Teams must add players who have four or five years in professional baseball, depending on their age when they signed, to the 40-man roster or risk losing them to another team in the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates will clear space so they can add prospects, notably catcher Tony Sanchez, and also to give themselves the ability to select a player in the draft.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter: @BrinkPG.


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