Spring Training: Pitching uncertainties pointing to trade
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Pirates cut five more players yesterday, including standout third baseman Jose Bautista, but seem no closer to making several key decisions.
And that might be because a trade is brewing.
A source close to Seattle's front office confirmed last night that the Mariners have persisted in their months-long effort to acquire outfielder Craig Wilson and that the return being discussed is Joel Pineiro, who could fulfill the Pirates' wish for an experienced right-handed starter.
Pineiro, 27, is 50-42 with a 4.11 earned run average for his career. He was strong in 2002-03, going 14-7 and 16-11, but he slid to 6-11 and 7-11 the past two seasons, partly because of shoulder trouble. In an area that might be especially important to the Pirates' inexperienced rotation, he has made 123 career starts and averaged 184 innings the past four years.
The salary exchange would not be even. Pineiro will make $6.3 million this season, Wilson $3.3 million. But Pineiro cannot become a free agent until after 2007, and Wilson can become one after this season.
Pineiro is scheduled to start Seattle's second game, which is the spot the Pirates have reserved for their lone undeclared starter.
Other teams remain interested in Wilson, too, but there is a general view that, if no deal is done by this weekend, there will be none for quite a while.
The Pirates must set their 25-man roster by midnight Saturday, but much remains in flux.
One area is the rotation, a picture that seems to get cloudier by the day.
Management still cites Brandon Duckworth and Victor Santos as the final candidates for the vacancy, but the team peculiarly declined to name a starter for the exhibition today against the Minnesota Twins. The team also would not specify if one might start a minor-league game instead.
The Pirates' media notes, distributed before the 3-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox at City of Palms Park, mentioned only that "a right-handed pitcher" would start today. A postgame release said it would be Duckworth or Santos.
Manager Jim Tracy referred questions on the matter to pitching coach Jim Colborn, who said he had not decided.
The bullpen mix is no less muddy.
Officially, there is one opening, and that is expected to go to Giovanni Carrara. But Matt Capps, C.J. Nitkowski and Terry Adams still are in the fold. And, in a fresh development, Tracy did not rule out that another opening could be created.
"Right now, there's one," Tracy said. "Tomorrow, there could be two."
That would eliminate Ryan Vogelsong, who has a 7.71 spring ERA and could be traded, waived or demoted. The deadline to unconditionally release a player without owing him the full season's pay passed at 2 p.m. yesterday, and Vogelsong's agent, Dave Meier, confirmed his client was not released.
Capps has been especially effective, striking out the only batter he faced yesterday -- Manny Ramirez -- to lower his ERA to 1.29. He is only 22, but Tracy was emphatically affirmative when asked yesterday if Capps could make the team.
The Pirates pared the active roster to 30 -- five above the limit -- by optioning Bautista and catcher Ronny Paulino to Class AAA Indianapolis and by assigning infielder Mike Edwards and pitchers Scott Strickland and Britt Reames to minor-league camp.
Also, pitchers Kip Wells, Bryan Bullington and John Van Benschoten will be placed on the disabled list, general manager Dave Littlefield said, though he did not specify for how long.
The primary fallout of all those moves was that Jose Hernandez made the team as a utilityman. Because he is a non-roster invitee, the Pirates will have to pick up his one-year, $850,000 contract and add him to the 40-man roster.
Bautista, 25, was among the team's best players this spring with a .345 average, four home runs and superb defense at several positions.
He did not seem surprised he failed to make the cut.
"I kind of had a clue when they went out and signed Joe Randa this winter, so it's not a big shock to me," he said. "I know I performed well in the spring, but I didn't really think that was going to matter."
"The bad news is you hate to send a guy to the minors because he has performed well," Littlefield said. "The good news is I'm sure he'll be back soon. This is a guy who's made improvements, who's matured, who certainly gives you the look that he's major-league ready."
Paulino, 25, went 4 for 11 after returning from the World Baseball Classic.
Edwards, 29, hit. 308 with a home run, but his spring ended badly. Tuesday in the batting cage, he fouled off a pitch that caromed off the ground and up to his right eye, which remained swollen shut yesterday.
Strickland, 29, has been trying to return to the majors after elbow surgery in 2003. He had a 4.97 ERA in eight appearances.
Reames, 32, had a 5.00 ERA in six appearances.
First Published March 30, 2006 12:00 am