Pirates zero in on moves to make during offseason

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010

Andy LaRoche missed his chance with the Pirates.

When LaRoche arrived in July 2008 as part of the Jason Bay trade, management hoped he would cement the starting job at third base. Instead, LaRoche failed to hit and had uncharacteristic defensive lapses.

"We expected more," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Andy is an example of why you can't count on just that one prospect (at any position). They don't always make it."

LaRoche will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, but he said he wouldn't be surprised if the Pirates do not tender him an offer. That would make him a free agent.

"I have no idea what their plan for me is," he said. "Do I have a role here next year• Will I be traded• Will I be non-tendered?"

LaRoche is not the only player to be weeded out as the Pirates reshape their lineup. It happened last year to Brandon Moss and might be in the process of happening with Lastings Milledge. The next one to go might be Jeff Clement, who is recovering from another knee surgery, or Garrett Jones.

Three veterans — Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit — have contracts that, in the Pirates' view, don't necessarily provide value for those players' production. That makes them potentially expendable this offseason. The Pirates will search the free-agent and trade markets for upgrades at starting pitcher, first base and right field.

Jones will return at first base in 2011, but probably not as a full-time starter. His future is clouded by age (he'll turn 30 in June), injury (for the second year in a row, he's hindered by shoulder problems) and declining production (he's batting .216 against left-handers).

Potentially, there will be several marquee first basemen — such as Derrek Lee, Paul Konerko and Carlos Pena — on the free-agent market, but don't expect the Pirates to chase them.

"A platoon (at first base) may be the best way to improve this club," Huntington said. "If we can find a right-handed bat that complements Garrett and beats up on left-handed pitchers better than he does, that might be our best fit."

Clement, a left-handed hitter who will be out of minor league options next year, likely is not in the mix. He had microfracture surgery Wednesday on his left knee and might not be ready for the start of spring training.

John Bowker, acquired at the end of July, is getting a long look in the season's final days. But he also has a poor career average (.132) against lefties, which indicates he might be a better option for right field.

Milledge, 25, will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. His age and potential make it likely the Pirates will keep him, but he might have to settle for a part-time role with Bowker.

Duke is a good bet to be non-tendered. Despite a 7-14 record and 5.68 ERA, Duke almost certainly would get upwards of $6 million next year through arbitration.

Most of whatever money the Pirates spend on free agents this winter likely will go toward pitchers. They might be able to get a value price on a veteran such as Todd Wellemeyer, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Bonderman or David Bush.

"We'll look at the trade market and free-agent market," Huntington said. "But the bottom line is, we've got to continue to be smart about how we allocate our resources. It's going to be an interesting offseason. We're going to work hard to supplement this group, but we can't just throw $55 million at somebody because he makes us feel better.

"Whether it's $2 million, $10 million or something higher than that, we've got to make sure we feel comfortable that this guy is, ideally, a multiple-year fit or, if it's a shorter-term fit, he fills a hole that we can't fill internally."

Additional Information:

On the market

Some potential free agents this offseason at positions where the Pirates may try to improve:

» First base: x-Lance Berkman, Aubrey Huff, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Fernando Tatis

» Right field: Jose Guillen, Brad Hawpe, Gabe Kapler, Austin Kearns, x-Jason Kubel, Jayson Werth

» Starting pitcher: Jeremy Bonderman, Dave Bush, Justin Duchscherer, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, Javier Vazquez, Todd Wellemeyer, Jake Westbrook, x-Chris Young

x-player's contract has 2011 option

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