Pirates lose Baldelli to Boston
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The Pirates' pursuit of free-agent outfielder Rocco Baldelli, one that continued into yesterday afternoon, apparently fizzled last night when he closed in on a contract agreement with the Boston Red Sox.
No announcement was made by any party, and no terms of an agreement were available, but Baldelli is scheduled to appear in Boston tonight to be honored with the Tony Conigliaro award for his comeback from health issues, and ESPN and the Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox could use that venue to introduce him to the New England media.
The field of suitors for Baldelli had been reduced to four by yesterday, and the Pirates were in the mix to the point that one source directly involved in negotiations described them as one of the two most aggressive teams. Pirates president Frank Coonelly yesterday acknowledged continuing interest, expressing hope that Baldelli would choose the Pirates because he felt they offered the best opportunity for regular playing time.
The other teams in the mix were the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds.
Baldelli, 27, was among the sport's rising stars, a legitimate five-tool talent, before a medical condition that caused extreme fatigue derailed his career with Tampa Bay. He played in only 155 games the past three seasons and sat out most of 2008, but he returned to the Rays in August and hit .263 with four home runs in 28 games, then two more home runs in the playoffs.
The initial diagnosis was that Baldelli had mitochondrial disorder, a potentially debilitating condition. But tests last month at the Cleveland Clinic brought a new diagnosis of channelopathy, a much less severe condition involving dysfunction of ion cells, one that is treatable with medication.
Because of Baldelli's health, the contracts being discussed between his agent, Casey Close, and all interested teams were of the short-term, heavy-on-bonuses variety. That includes the talks with the Pirates, who, after extensive examination of Baldelli??s medical records, decided that some guaranteed money was in order but that a large financial commitment would be too risky.
Part of Baldelli's motivation for wanting to stay in the American League, according to one source, was that, if his health dictated, he could be a designated hitter and maintain his strength better. One reason he liked Boston was that he is a native of nearby Cumberland, R.I.
The Pirates' most likely starting outfield for 2009, left to right, has Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss. All are left-handed, and Morgan does not provide the power management wants from a corner, which is why acquiring a right-handed power bat has been the top priority of the offseason.
The free-agent market is mostly bereft of that commodity, though, which means a trade could offer the best solution. Or management could turn to Steve Pearce, who is lacking in plate discipline, defense and experience, but is right-handed, has plenty of power and has spent time in right field and at first base.
First Published January 8, 2009 12:00 am