Pirates covering their bases with 3B Alvarez
On Tuesday, manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates must have a "contingency plan," in case third baseman Pedro Alvarez falters again this season. There were indications yesterday at the winter meetings that the role might be filled by either Wilson Betemit or Mark DeRosa.
Team and industry sources said the Pirates have made headway in contract talks with both free agent infielders, though no deal was imminent. Only one infielder will be signed.
"Pedro knows coming in that it's his job, but he's got to keep his job," Hurdle said. "We'll search for somebody who's a contingency plan if things don't work out."
Hurdle said the Pirates wanted only a reserve player and discounted the notion that Alvarez needs to be pushed by competition.
"He's driven," Hurdle said. "He's got enough professional pride that's in the right place that he wants more. He knows the difference he can make on our ballclub if he performs as he thinks he can."
Betemit, 30, a Type B free agent, was non-tendered after hitting .285 with a .795 OPS last season for the Kansas City Royals (57 games) and Detroit Tigers (40 games). DeRosa, 36, appeared in 47 games for the San Francisco Giants and batted .279 with a .653 OPS.
Betemit, a nine-year veteran and a switch-hitter, also has played first and second base, shortstop and outfield. DeRosa, who also can play second base and corner outfield, is a 14-year veteran.
"It would be good to add some veteran presence to our club," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Guys who've seen some winning environments and some losing environments, who can share things with our guys."
The Pirates moved closer to finalizing a deal with outfielder Nate McLouth, but no announcement is expected until Wednesday at the earliest.
McLouth would get a one-year contract that will include plenty of incentives. After struggling for two years with the Atlanta Braves, McLouth, 30, wants to try to resurrect his career with the Pirates, who drafted him in 2000.
The Pirates would like to add a veteran left-handed reliever to complement newbies Tony Watson and Daniel Moskos. But the free-agent market is so thin, a trade might be the better route.
It's also possible that the Pirates keep just one left-hander in the bullpen, as was the case much of last season.
"In a perfect world, we'll try to use two left-handers," Huntington said. "But at the same time, we'll just want seven guys who can get people out."
Management has not yet decided whether left-hander Justin Wilson will go forward as a starter or a reliever. Wilson, one of the team's top pitching prospects, saw his velocity spike last season when working out of the bullpen.
"As we look at our current club and our future clubs, that's a question we'll walk through," Huntington said. "And it may be answered one way one year and another way another year."
The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday for Derrek Lee to accept the Pirates' offer of salary arbitration. Lee, a Type B free agent, is expected to reject arbitration. If he signs elsewhere, the Pirates will receive a compensation draft pick between the first and second rounds in 2012.
Hurdle said he's been in contact with Lee this offseason: "Just in texts, and they've had nothing to do with baseball."