Pirates pursue recovering Baldelli
Share with others:
The Pirates are in pursuit of outfielder Rocco Baldelli, one of the most intriguing -- and risky -- players available in Major League Baseball's free agency.
Baldelli, 27, once was among the sport's rising stars, but his career with Tampa Bay was derailed by a medical condition that caused extreme fatigue and kept him from regular duty. He missed most of this past season because of it but 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 the new diagnosis produced this month after extensive tests at the Cleveland Clinic was that he has channelopathy, a much less severe condition treatable with medication. Channelopathy involves dysfunction of ion cells in handling potassium, chloride, sodium and calcium.
Baldelli told the St. Petersburg Times last week that he is getting good results from the medication and called it "definitely an encouraging development."
The Rays have told Baldelli they are interested in bringing him back even after buying out the final three years of his contract for $4 million. The Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees also are interested.
The Pirates have had several conversations with Baldelli's representatives, according to one high-ranking team executive, and their pursuit is serious. General manager Neal Huntington has acknowledged wanting a right-handed power bat for the outfield -- Nate McLouth, Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan all are left-handed -- and Baldelli could fit that, the Pirates believe, even if he continues to require regular rest.
Another right-handed power bat the Pirates had been weighing, Ty Wigginton, has fallen to the background. Wigginton's primary positions are third and first base, and newcomer Ramon Vazquez now is Andy LaRoche's backup at third, and Steve Pearce could be Adam LaRoche's backup across the diamond.
One free agent the Pirates continue to keep on their list -- but still with no offer -- is Doug Mientkiewicz, as Huntington acknowledged yesterday. Huntington said the team wants to be sure Mientkiewicz has room on the diamond and cited, as an example, the at-bats he will lose with Vazquez now available at third.
"Obviously, what Doug meant to this team in the clubhouse is invaluable," Huntington said. "But we want to make sure there's a place for him to play."
Mientkiewicz received enthusiastic support from catcher Ryan Doumit, who sat in the adjacent stall this past season.
"It would be great to have him back," Doumit said. "He was a leader on and off the field, and he's a guy, I think, that this team needs."
Also yesterday, the Pirates signed six players to minor league contracts with invitations to the major league portion of spring training:
• Reliever Denny Bautista was brought back, two weeks after the team declined to tender him a contract through arbitration. He will be in the bullpen mix next spring, Huntington said.
• Reliever Chris Bootcheck, 30, had a 6.04 ERA in parts of five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. He will be in the mix, too.
• Reliever Juan Mateo, 26, was brought back for minor league depth after a strong 2008 in which he had a 2.02 ERA for Class AA Altoona.
• Outfielder Jeff Salazar, 28, once was a highly regarded prospect but batted .211 in 90 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks this past season. He will compete for a bench job with the Pirates.
• Utility infielder Andy Phillips, 31, spent parts of last season with the Reds and New York Mets and has a .250 career average. He saw duty the previous four seasons with the New York Yankees. He, too, will compete for the main club.
• First baseman Garrett Jones, 27, batted .279 with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs for Class AAA Rochester this past season. He has 31 career games in the majors.
NOTES -- The Pirates are finding no suitors for Jack Wilson and are set to enter 2009 with him as their everyday shortstop. ... The Pirates offered a slightly higher salary than what free-agent starter Daniel Cabrera accepted from the Washington Nationals in signing his one-year, $2.6 million contract over the weekend. Cabrera, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, chose Washington because he wanted to remain in the Beltway area. ... That might be the Pirates' last significant pursuit of a free-agent starter this offseason. ... The list of non-roster invitees to spring training now stands at 10, including two prospects, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and starter Daniel McCutchen.
First Published December 23, 2008 12:00 am