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Pirates notebook: Reliever Grilli remains unsigned

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 8:12 p.m.
The Pirates' Jason Grilli reacts after giving up a solo homer to the Twins' Josh Willingham in the eighth inning  June 20, 2012.
(Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Pirates' Jason Grilli reacts after giving up a solo homer to the Twins' Josh Willingham in the eighth inning June 20, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hours after Pirates executives returned from baseball's four-day winter meetings, they still did not know if their final move of the confab would come to fruition.

The Pirates were one of three finalists to sign free-agent reliever Jason Grilli, whose agent was expected to announce a decision Thursday morning at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. But following an afternoon full of conflicting Internet reports about Grilli's decision, darkness fell in Pittsburgh with the 36-year-old veteran still unsigned.

On Wednesday, the Pirates submitted to Grilli a two-year contract when they met with Grilli's agent, Gary Sheffield. The Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs made similar offers. The San Francisco Giants, hesitant to offer a multiyear deal, fell out of contention Thursday morning.

There were no indications Thursday night that Grilli had asked teams to revise their offers or that he was reopening the bidding.

“We feel like we made a very fair offer to Jason,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “We sure hope it keeps him in a Pirates uniform. If it doesn't, we're going to wish him nothing but success because he did great things with us. He's a great guy. Our hope is he continues to mentor our young pitchers and continues to strike out hitters for us.”

In 92 games over the past two seasons with the Pirates, Grilli went 3-7 with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.161 WHIP. For his career, Grilli is 21-25 with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.413 WHIP.

Three of Grilli's five career saves came with the Pirates. Those numbers would soar if Joel Hanrahan is traded as Grilli is first in line to take over as closer.

Hanrahan is likely to make around $7 million next season and will be a free agent in 2014. The Pirates, who are expected to have a 2013 payroll of about $70 million (not including portions of salaries that will be paid by other clubs), don't want to shell out $10 million — roughly twice as much as emerging star Andrew McCutchen will make — for two late-inning relievers.

Grilli blossomed last summer as Hanrahan's setup man. He ranked second in the NL with 32 holds. His deadliest weapon is the fastball, and Grilli ranked fourth among NL relievers with 13.81 strikeouts per nine innings.

In 2012, Grilli made $1.1 million, which was about as much as he made in 2009 and '11 combined. He sat out the entire '10 season while recovering from knee surgery.

Quiet week ends

After a relatively quiet week at the meetings, the Pirates contingent flew out of Nashville around 1 p.m. on Thursday. However, that doesn't mean Huntington is done shaping the roster.

“When we jump on a plane, the activity doesn't stop,” said Huntington, who continues to seek a pitcher for the back end of the starting rotation. “There were things we laid the groundwork for last year at the winter meetings that came to fruition later on in the season. This is just another mile marker.”

The lone trade the Pirates made was picking up left-hander Andrew Oliver, who will compete for a job in the rotation in spring camp. At the start of the meetings, Huntington said the team's “big move” was netting free-agent catcher Russell Martin, who signed last week.

“The rest of it now is upgrades,” Huntington said. “How do we improve our offense, our defense, our depth? That's the goal as we go forward.”

Rule 5 draft

For the first time since Huntington became general manager, the Pirates did not take a player in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

“We liked some of the guys who didn't get to us (with the 13th pick),” Huntington said.

In the Triple-A phase, the Pirates chose right-hander Phillip Hollingsworth, 25, from the Royals. Also, the Pirates lost infielder Elvys Gonzalez, who was taken by the Dodgers.

At Triple-A Omaha this season, Hollingsworth pitched in 11 games (two starts) and went 2-3 with a 6.44 ERA and and 1.875 WHIP. He also pitched in 23 games (six starts) for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and went 3-8 with a 4.17 ERA and 1.364 WHIP.

“We've like him this year, last year, the year before,” player development director Larry Broadway said. “He's a guy who might fit in some sort of starter capacity in the minor leagues for us.”

The Pirates did not make any picks in the Double-A phase of the Rule 5 draft.

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

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