Mientkiewicz giving Pirates 'the final say'
Pirates' Doug Mientkiewicz and Diamondbacks' pitcher Randy Johnson, right are restrained from getting to each other.
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Doug Mientkiewicz has told the Pirates they will have "the final say" on where he plays in 2009.
The team's popular utilityman and clubhouse leader is a free agent and has drawn some early interest in what he hopes will result in a chance to return to a starting role. But, as he told general manager Neal Huntington in a conversation early last month, he will not sign a contract until he places a call to Pittsburgh.
"I told Neal regardless of what offer I get or what situation I'm in, because of what he did for me last winter, I will run it by him before I do anything," Mientkiewicz said last night from his home in Miami. "He was honest with me. He stuck out his neck for me when I didn't have anything else. I'll definitely give the Pirates the last crack."
Mientkiewicz, 34, was signed to a minor league contract before this past spring training and had to make the roster as a utilityman, a career first. He did so and wound up with a .277 average, .374 on-base percentage, two home runs and 30 RBIs in 285 at-bats. His most impressive statistic was a .326 average as a pinch-hitter, his 14 hits in those situations ranking fourth in the National League.
Huntington informed Mientkiewicz shortly after the season that the Pirates want him back as a bench player but added that he would respect Mientkiewicz's decision to seek a starting role elsewhere.
Mientkiewicz declined to name the teams expressing interest but said he expects to have a clearer picture of his future after the Winter Meetings that begin Monday in Las Vegas.
"It's a typical Mientkiewicz offseason. I'm everybody's B and C plan," he said. "If they two guys they want to sign get hit by a truck, then they think about me."
He laughed as he said that but turned serious when asked about starting, something he has not done regularly since the second half of 2007 with the New York Yankees.
"It's huge for me. I still feel like I can play everyday. And that's the biggest thing: If I do the job or I get on a roll, I want to know I'd have the chance to move into the lineup."
He displayed a sharp grasp, though, that he hardly fits the power-at-the-corners profile.
"The easy way to look at me is to say I'm a first baseman and I hit two home runs last year. But you look at the majority of my consistent at-bats, and they came against back-end relievers. Those guys are paid to keep the ball in the ballpark. I didn't drive the ball as well as I could have, but I feel like I had some big hits. I feel like I did a lot of good things when I got the chance."
Mientkiewicz batted .344 with runners in scoring position, but his most significant contribution to the Pirates might have been his fiery personality, from that high-profile shouting match with Randy Johnson to bitingly honest assessments when the team was not giving its best to his all-out-every-play commitment on the field.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I really mean that no matter what happens. I want to win more than anybody else does, but, even with the record we had, the pride I felt in some parts of that season were huge. I got to watch Nate McLouth blossom. I got to watch Ryan Doumit slug it out every night. I saw those guys grow up. And I saw a whole team that never quit. The nucleus is there, believe me. You build around Nate and Ryan, and you'll have something."
McLouth and Doumit have stayed in touch with Mientkiewicz all offseason.
"Look, the easy thing for an outsider to say is: Why would he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Well, there's more to it. It's hard to explain. I just felt such a connection to the people up there, to the guys in that clubhouse, the coaching staff ... they let me be me. I don't get that everywhere. I don't get a chance to voice my opinion in certain situations, and John Russell was adamant about letting me be me, like it or love it or hate it. And I think it rubbed off on the guys that needed to hear it."
Mientkiewicz's wife, Jodi, had a small setback two weeks ago from her August heart surgery, due to complications with the pacemaker that was installed. But that was addressed, and doctors told the couple that the virus that prompted the surgery could be gone within a year.
"She still has some tough times, but she's doing mostly great," Mientkiewicz said.
Her sense of humor apparently has not been affected.
"She told me I caused heart to fail because she had to watch me playing third base."
That was where Mientkiewicz, playing a position mostly foreign to him, committed all seven of his errors in 2008.
NOTES -- The Pirates are focused on Los Angeles in their trade talks involving shortstop Jack Wilson, with Dodgers shortstop prospect Chin-Lung Hu and outfielder Delwyn Young still at the forefront of the possible return. ...Expect another player or two to be removed from the 40-man roster before the Winter Meetings. ... Before free-agent outfielder Russell Branyan signed with the Seattle Mariners for one year at $1.4 million yesterday, he had entertained a one-year offer from the Pirates, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also turned down more money from a team in Japan. ... The Pirates hired Marc DelPiano as Huntington's eighth special assistant. DelPiano, 41, was a special assignment scout for the Boston Red Sox the past three seasons. ... Tickets are on sale now for PirateFest, Jan. 23-25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Players set to appear include McLouth, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and pitchers Paul Maholm and Matt Capps. Doug Drabek, a Cy Young Award winner in 1990, also will attend.
First Published December 4, 2008 12:00 am