Back of bullpen a concern as Grilli delays decision

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pirates front office departed the winter meetings Thursday amid uncertainty regarding the back end of their bullpen.

Jason Grilli, the lights-out set-up man who became a free agent after the 2012 season, had not decided as of Thursday evening whether to re-sign with the Pirates or join another team. A decision was expected Thursday morning.

In parts of two seasons with the Pirates, Grilli, 36, struck out 127 batters in 91 1/3 innings with a 2.76 ERA. He had a spectacular season in 2012 as a set-up man, striking out 13.8 batters per nine innings.

If Grilli returns, the Pirates have more flexibility to trade closer Joel Hanrahan, who has drawn interest from other clubs. Hanrahan will be a free agent after the 2013 season and is expected to receive a salary of about $7 million in his final year of arbitration.

Aside from Andrew Oliver, the left-hander acquired Wednesday from the Detroit Tigers, the Pirates did not do much at this year's winter meetings.

"When we jump on the plane [Thursday], the activity doesn't stop," Huntington said. "There's ongoing conversations and things that we laid the groundwork for last year at the winter meetings that came to fruition later on in the offseason. Some things that we thought we were very close on did not come to fruition later in the offseason."

When asked if the Pirates were closer to finding another starting pitcher, Huntington said, "We feel good about what we have internally and we're working to try to find something that makes us better."

The Pirates have been linked to free-agent starters Mike Pelfrey, Jair Jurrjens and John Lannan, all of whom were non-tendered by their previous clubs. Moving the non-tender date ahead of the winter meetings created more free agents for teams to negotiate with.

"We get an early look, teams get an early look about what they want to do, and it allows them to either seek known free agents earlier, or seek the people who are now available," said agent Scott Boras, who represents Pelfrey and Jurrjens. "It's a much more defined situation for everybody and I think it allows the free agent market to work more efficiently for all."

Pelfrey had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery early last season but Boras said he is throwing off a mound and doing well.

Minor moves

The Pirates did not select -- or lose -- anyone in the major league portion of Thursday's Rule 5 draft. They chose right-hander Ethan Hollingsworth from the Kansas City Royals organization in the Class AAA phase of the draft.

Hollingsworth, 25, is a ground-ball pitcher who appeared in 34 games, starting eight of them, between Class AA and Class AAA in 2012. He struck out 66 batters in 102 2/3 innings with a 4.82 ERA.

Pirates director of minor league operations Larry Broadway said Hollingsworth, a fourth-round pick by the Rockies in 2008, will join the rotation at Class AAA Indianapolis.

"We've liked him in the past," Broadway said. "As we look at our roster, he might be able to fit in there in some sort of starter capacity in the minor leagues for us this year."

The Pirates lost third baseman Elevys Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the draft's minor league portion. Gonzalez, a 23-year-old switch-hitter, hit .206/.306/.331 between Class A Bradenton and Class AA Altoona after hitting .322 in a full season in Bradenton in 2011.

"We still like the kid. You hate to lose them," Broadway said. "It just came down to protecting guys and you couldn't protect them all."

The Pirates also sent right-hander Kyle Kaminska to the Boston Red Sox as the player to be named later in last week's trade for right-hander Zach Stewart.

Kaminska, 24, came to the Pirates at the trade deadline along with Gaby Sanchez from the Miami Marlins in exchange for Gorkys Hernandez and a compensation draft pick. He had a 1.61 ERA in six starts in the Arizona Fall League, the lowest ERA among starting pitchers. He struck out 21 and walked four in 28 innings.

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Bill Brink: and Twitter @BrinkPG.


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