Pirates face chasm with McLouth, Maholm
The Pirates yesterday avoided salary arbitration with first baseman Adam LaRoche, starter Zach Duke and relievers John Grabow and Tyler Yates by signing them to one-year contracts, but they have many miles to go with outfielder Nate McLouth and starter Paul Maholm.
More than a million, actually.
McLouth and Maholm exchanged salary figures with the team by Major League Baseball's noon deadline for arbitration-eligible players, and the disparity suggested a settlement could be challenging: Each player submitted $3.8 million, and the Pirates countered with $2.75 million for McLouth, $2.65 million for Maholm.
The next step comes with the Feb. 1-21 hearings, where a three-member arbitration panel must choose one salary or the other. A settlement can be struck at any point before the hearing, too, which is how it usually plays out.
"We don't want to go through the hearing," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "I think both sides recognize that little good comes out of it. But, if it becomes unavoidable, we'll go to a hearing and present our case as to why we think our number is the most appropriate."
Each player is eligible for arbitration for the first time, so exponential raises are common for those who perform: McLouth, 27, made $425,000 while batting .276 with 26 home runs and a Gold Glove last season. Maholm, 26, made $424,500 while going 9-9 with a 3.71 ERA.
But this could be a factor, too: Of the 28 players around the majors who exchanged figures and have more than three years' experience entering their first year of eligibility -- a status some agents feel entitles the player to more than the standard two-plus or three full years -- 18 of them, including McLouth and Maholm, had gaps of $950,000 or more.
"I don't think our situation is that unusual," Huntington said.
The Pirates have explored multiyear extensions this offseason for McLouth and Maholm, but the McLouth talks on that front disintegrated last month and have not been revived. Those with Maholm have had rough patches but remain alive and could present a path to close the gap with him.
The four players who signed yesterday received raises totaling $5.52 million:
• LaRoche, 29, will make $7.05 million, second only to shortstop Jack Wilson's $7.25 million on the roster, plus as much as $100,000 in performance bonuses: $50,000 each for 555 and 590 plate appearances. He made $5 million last season while batting .270 with 25 home runs.
• Duke, 25, will make $2.2 million, plus as much as $100,000 in bonuses. He made $400,000 last season while going 5-14 with a 4.82 ERA.
• Grabow, 30, will make $2.3 million, plus as much as $75,000 in bonuses. He made $1,135,000 last season while posting a 2.84 ERA in 74 appearances.
• Yates, 31, will make $1.3 million, plus as much as $25,000 in bonuses. He made $800,000 last season while posting a 4.66 ERA in 72 appearances.
LaRoche and Grabow, each in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, can declare free agency after the coming season. That would appear to put in serious doubt their future in Pittsburgh, especially given that neither was approached this offseason with a multiyear offer.
"I don't think this has to be their last year with us. Not at all," Huntington said. "It's something we'll evaluate over the course of the summer. We went with one-year deals with each guy for a different reason."
One obvious reason with LaRoche was that the Pirates' initial attempt at multiyear talks with him, early last year, collapsed almost immediately.
"We were so far apart that it probably influenced how we went forward this year," Huntington said.
What surely will be pivotal for LaRoche this summer is a fast start. He has an agonizing history of awful Aprils, and those have tended to bring him -- and his numbers -- down from the power standpoint, often into deep May.
"I think Adam's going to get off to a solid start. I really do," Huntington said. "I think it's tough on Adam that so much is made of his starts. Whether it's McLouth or Ryan Doumit or Freddy Sanchez or Jack or anyone, they all have down months. In Adam's case, unfortunately, it comes in April. And it's every April. His Mays are OK, but he's dug himself such a hole that his average still sits at .220."
Grabow, in contrast, has been consistently productive in his five-plus years in Pittsburgh, establishing himself as one of the top left-handers in any National League bullpen. But there remains with management a worry about chips in his left elbow, even though Grabow relentlessly has taken the ball throughout his career.
"John certainly had a great year last year, and he's a gamer," Huntington said. "He represents a lot of things we'd like to have in present and future Pirates. Like with Adam, we look forward to communicating with him."
NOTES -- Starter Phil Dumatrait reported positive results yesterday after his first throwing session since being shut down two weeks ago with lingering shoulder pain. ... Infielder Luis Rivas, who batted .218 in 76 games for the Pirates last season, signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs, who will invite him to spring training. Three of the Pirates' four players who declared free agency have signed elsewhere. Utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz remains on the market. ... The Pirates will unveil a new alternate uniform Friday at their annual media luncheon, a model that replaces the unpopular red variety introduced two years ago. ... Of the 111 players around the majors who filed for arbitration, 46 exchanged figures, one fewer than last year. ... Notable among ex-Pirates who settled: Outfielder Xavier Nady and the New York Yankees agreed on one year at $6.55 million, third baseman Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays on one year at $2.4 million. ... Eight players in the majors went to hearings last year. The Pirates have gone to hearings only twice in the past 16 years: Jeff King in 1993, Wilson in 2004.
First Published January 20, 2009 11:41 pm