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Pirates in market for catcher, starting pitcher

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Detroit Tigers' Gerald Laird reacts after a pop bunt out during the fifth inning of Game 4 of baseball's World Series against the San Francisco Giants Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, in Detroit. Associated Press

The Pirates figure to add to their $61.375 million payroll next season, but that doesn't mean a free-agent spending spree is about to happen on the North Shore.

Major League Baseball free agency began Saturday, and the Pirates again are expected to be a relative nonfactor.

The combined salaries of Pedro Alvarez and six players already under contract for 2013 — A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Andrew McCutchen, Clint Barmes and Jose Tabata — will account for $27.7 million. Re-signing a handful of the team's eight arbitration-eligible players will require about $20 million. That doesn't leave a lot of cash for the free-agent market.

Two areas of particular interest for the Pirates are pitcher and catcher.

The Pirates decided not to pick up catcher Rod Barajas' $3.5 million option, leaving Michael McKenry as the only catcher on the 40-man roster.

McKenry will be back — he isn't arbitration eligible until 2015 — but there are doubts about his ability to be an everyday player. Tony Sanchez, a first-round pick in 2009, will be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but he probably needs more time in Triple-A.

General manager Neal Huntington certainly will try to acquire a big league-ready catcher if he trades closer Joel Hanrahan over the winter. As for the free-agent crop, the pickings are slim, just as they were a year ago.

Possible targets the Pirates might consider include (last season's team):

• Gerald Laird (Tigers): He turns 33 on Nov. 13 and made $1 million in 2012. He hit .282 with a .710 OPS.

• A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox): He turns 36 on Dec. 30 and made $6 million last season. He hit .278 with a .827 OPS.

• Yorvit Torrealba (Brewers): He is 34 and made $3.25 million in 2012. He hit .227 with a .623 OPS.

• Kelly Shoppach (Mets): The 33-year-old made $1.135 million. He hit .233 with a .733 OPS while playing for the Red Sox and Mets.

• Humberto Quintero (Royals): He is 33 and made $1 million last season while hitting .232 with a .598 OPS.

For comparison's sake, Barajas is 37, made $4 million and hit .206 with .625 OPS. Worse, he threw out only 6 percent of base-stealers (6 of 99).

The Pirates also are shopping for a starting pitcher, but with right-hander A.J. Burnett and lefty Wandy Rodriguez in the mix, the club does not need a top-of-the-rotation guy — which is a good thing because the team cannot afford one, anyway.

Huntington will go after someone to fill either the 3, 4 or 5 spot, preferably a veteran who can be counted upon to eat some innings.

Righty Kevin Correia's agent told the Tribune-Review his client will test free agency, and management has given no indication it will try to bring Correia back. Righty Charlie Morton is out until at least July as he recovers from elbow surgery and might be non-tendered.

Even if righty Jeff Karstens, who is in his last year of arbitration eligibility, is tendered a contract, the Pirates will want to bring in a free agent to provide injury insurance and competition in spring training. Despite his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in 2012, righty James McDonald is in the plans for the rotation next season.

Rookies Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson are minimum-wage options. Of them, McPherson was more impressive during September auditions.

Options the Pirates might consider given budget constraints (last season's team):

• RHP Kevin Milwood (Mariners): He turns 38 on Dec. 24 and is mulling retirement. He went 6-12 with 4.25 ERA and 1.391 WHIP in 28 starts (161 innings) while making $1 million.

• RHP Tim Stauffer (Padres): The 30-year-old pitched in just one game in the majors before having season-ending surgery on the flexor tendon in his right elbow. He made $3.2 million last season.

• RHP Chris Young (Mets): The 33-year-old went 4-9 with 4.15 ERA and 1.348 WHIP in 20 starts (115 innings) while making $1.1 million.

• RHP Carlos Villanueva (Blue Jays): He turns 29 on Nov. 28. He went 7-7 with 4.16 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 38 games (16 starts) while making $2.28 million. Like Correia two years ago, he also wants assurance he'll be a full-time starter.

• LHP Jeff Francis (Royals): He is intriguing because Clint Hurdle was his manager with the Rockies from 2004-09. Francis, who turns 32 on Jan. 8, went 6-7 with 5.58 ERA and 1.478 WHIP in 24 games (113 innings) and made $2 million in 2012.

• RHP Jeremy Guthrie (Royals): The 33-year-old went 8-12 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.409 WHIP in 33 games (181.2 innings) with the Rockies and Royals. He made $8.2 million, so the price would have to come down dramatically.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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