Pirates cut Vazquez, settle on opening roster
Pirates manager John Russell takes questions at PNC Park Sunday.
Andrew McCutchen waits his turn at the batting cage during the Pirates' workout at PNC Park Sunday afternoon before their season opener today.
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The Pirates parted ways with veteran infielder Ramon Vazquez, with a clear risk that they will pay him $2 million for nothing in 2010, in settling their opening-day roster Sunday.
These were the final moves:
• Vazquez was designated for assignment, meaning the team can trade, waive or release him in the next 10 days.
• Outfielder Steve Pearce was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis.
• Relievers D.J. Carrasco and Jack Taschner had their contracts purchased from Indianapolis and were added to the 40-man and 25-man rosters.
• Rule 5 outfielder John Raynor, reliever Hayden Penn and first baseman Jeff Clement were told they made the team.
• Reliever Joel Hanrahan was placed on the 15-day disabled list, reliever Jose Ascanio on the 60-day.
Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (11-16, 4.06 last year) vs. RHP Vicente Padilla (12-6, 4.46).
Key matchup: Los Angeles' All-Star catcher, Russell Martin, is 7 for 15 with a home run and three doubles off Duke.
Of note: The Pirates are facing Los Angeles in an opener for the first time. There were two openers against the Dodgers when they were based in Brooklyn, in 1953 and 1955, both in New York.
Thus, this will be the roster that faces the Los Angeles Dodgers at 1:35 p.m. today at PNC Park:
Starters: Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, Daniel McCutchen.
Relievers: Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, Evan Meek, Javier Lopez, Carrasco, Taschner, Penn.
Catchers: Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo.
Infielders: Jeff Clement, Aki Iwamura, Ronny Cedeno, Andy LaRoche, Bobby Crosby, Delwyn Young.
Outfielders: Lastings Milledge, Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Ryan Church, Raynor.
Vazquez, 33, was signed to a two-year, $4 million contract out of free agency before the 2009 season. He batted .230 with one home run and 16 RBIs, never coming close to his prior production with the Texas Rangers. This spring, even after a long-troublesome right knee had healed following minor surgery in November, he batted .176.
The largest amount paid to a released player on general manager Neal Huntington's watch was the $9 million to starter Matt Morris, but Morris was acquired by Huntington's predecessor, Dave Littlefield. The largest paid to a released player acquired by Huntington was the $300,000 to reliever Byung-Hyun Kim after a failed spring training in 2008.
Vazquez has not yet been released, and the Pirates still hope to arrange a trade, even if it means picking up most of his salary. If Vazquez is released, the Pirates are responsible for his full salary minus whatever another team might pay him this year. Any team acquiring Vazquez would be responsible for no more than the major-league minimum salary of $400,000. So, for example, if Vazquez were to play for someone else right away, the Pirates would be responsible for $1.6 million.
Either way, about 5 percent of the team's $35.3 million payroll, smallest in Major League Baseball, will go to someone not playing.
"Our situation changed," Huntington said of designating Vazquez. " And, as we looked at putting together a 25-man roster to help us win games this month and into the future, we determined it was a better fit with other players. We are appreciative of Ramon's contributions on and off the field, but we felt this decision was best for the organization short and long term."
Part of the thought process, Huntington said, was to give manager John Russell "a bench with various components." Vazquez would have been a third extra infielder, and his left-handed bat would have made for four of five on the bench. Only Bobby Crosby and switch-hitter Delwyn Young, hitting from his weaker side, would have been right-handed.
Raynor is right-handed, but he has much to prove in his first taste of the majors, especially after an up-then-down spring in which he batted .229 after a 1-for-21 free fall to finish.
He must be kept on the roster all season or offered back to the Florida Marlins, his original team.
"In John Raynor, we've got a guy who can play all three outfield positions, provide some speed off the bench, and he's a guy we think has the upside to be an everyday player," Huntington said.
Penn made only four appearances for the Pirates this spring after being claimed off waivers from the Marlins, and he did not fare well. But management was intrigued enough by 95-mph velocity and a hammer curve that he was kept.
Hanrahan is eligible to come off the disabled list Friday, and the Pirates plan to have him available to pitch Saturday in Phoenix. It could be that Penn gets only the coming week -- including his side sessions -- to impress.
• The Pirates are trying to trade outfielder Brandon Moss, whose 10-day designated-for-assignment period ends Thursday, and it is believed there is enough interest that they could do so. If not, he would be outrighted to Indianapolis.
• Russell will not announce his lineup until this morning. With the right-hander Vicente Padilla pitching for Los Angeles, expect it to be loaded with left-handed bats and to look like this: 1. Aki Iwamura, 2B. 2. Andrew McCutchen, CF. 3. Garrett Jones, RF. 4. Ryan Doumit, C. 5. Lastings Milledge, LF. 6. Clement, 1B. 7. Andy LaRoche, 3B. 8. Zach Duke, P. 9. Ronny Cedeno, SS.
• Russell, asked during the Sunday workout at PNC Park about guarding against a bad start: "You can't guard against anything. You've just got to compete and prepare every day. These guys are very ready. They've really grown together as a team. That's one of the things that will help pull them through that."
• The 40-man roster remains full.
First Published April 5, 2010 12:00 am