Winter meetings: Pirates trot after outfielder Nixon
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates, it appears, are hot for Trot.
On the first day of Major League Baseball's winter meetings, a rival executive revealed that Dave Littlefield is pursuing veteran outfielder Trot Nixon, late of the Boston Red Sox, through free agency.
It is something of a surprise, as Nixon, 32, hardly fits the Pirates' stated goal of finding a young, left-handed power bat. But, as Littlefield made clear after his initial face-to-face dealings with agents and other general managers yesterday, he is not ruling out any avenue.
"Ideally, what we're trying to do is find players that fit in with the same service time and age with the rest of our guys," Littlefield said. "Basically, we've got everybody together for a couple years."
But would he entertain a veteran as a fallback?
Nixon was with Boston for all 10 of his major-league seasons, but the Red Sox essentially cut ties with him Friday by not offering arbitration after he made $6.5 million last season. That opened the door for teams to negotiate with Nixon without worrying about giving up a high draft pick as compensation, and the Pirates stepped in.
To be sure, Nixon is no mega-slugger. He never has hit more than 28 home runs in a season and has not topped 13 in the past three years. But he has batted .278 over his career, and he averages close to 30 doubles a season. Last season, he was limited to 114 games despite being mostly healthy, and he batted .268 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs in 381 at-bats.
The view from Boston: Interest in Nixon is thin, and his salary could dip.
The Pirates' discussions with Nixon could be taken as a sign that they are seeking a fallback if they fail to acquire a young bat such as Atlanta Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche, the name most often linked with the Pirates in the lobby yesterday. LaRoche, 27, is coming off a fine season in which he batted .285 with 32 home runs and 90 RBIs.
Teams holding such cards covet pitching in return, and the Pirates have made no secret of their reluctance to part with any of starters Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm or Tom Gorzelanny. Their two closers are in demand, too, though they evidently prefer giving up Salomon Torres, 34, to Mike Gonzalez, 28.
Littlefield acknowledged Gonzalez, a rifle-armed left-hander who was 24 for 24 in saves last season, is in thick demand.
"There's definitely interest in him," Littlefield said. "And Torres also was very good for us."
It is possible, too, that the Pirates' eye on Nixon is a sign that they are entertaining platoon options.
How else to explain the word circulating that they were bidding for free-agent first baseman Kevin Millar before the Baltimore Orioles signed him over the weekend for one year at $2.75 million? Millar is neither young, at age 35, nor left-handed.
At any rate, if Nixon is one fallback, Milwaukee outfielder Geoff Jenkins could be another.
It seems the Brewers gladly would accept a minimal trade return so long as some team picked up most or all of his $7 million salary for 2007, but there are no takers so far. No surprise there: Jenkins, 31, is coming off a rare down year with a .277 average and 17 home runs.
Littlefield said he had discussions with "a half-dozen teams" yesterday.
The Pirates' desired pitcher might come into focus before the hitter, if only because the team is focused on free agency to find its right-handed starter, and the dominoes are beginning to fall.
Although the Pirates are thought to have approached several pitchers, the main target remains Jeff Suppan, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals. Littlefield has remained in touch with Suppan's agent, Scott Leventhal, despite a price tag that could approach four years and $40 million.
Asked if an eight-figure salary -- something the Pirates never have paid -- is a possibility this offseason, Littlefield replied: "It's probably one that we'd have to look long and hard at, based on the number of years, the performance and projected performance. We have the resources to do it. Now, whether we do it or not, or what else we can do, is part of the analysis."
Littlefield did not acknowledge pursuing Suppan, but he offered praise for Suppan's half-season with the Pirates in 2003, during which he was 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA.
"Jeff did a great job for us. He's a real pro who was an excellent addition both with his on-field performance and how he integrated himself with the team."
One other catch regarding Suppan: If the Pirates were to sign him, they would have to give up a first-round draft pick to St. Louis. Because the Cardinals offered Suppan arbitration by this past weekend, he fell into the Type A category for free-agency compensation.
First Published December 5, 2006 12:00 am