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Pirates notebook: Walker wants long-term deal

| Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, 6:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Neil Walker, shown here during a game last season against Milwaukee, agreed to a one-year deal Thursday to avoid arbitration. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates GM Neal Huntington, Manager Clint Hurdle and President Frank Connlley share a laugh with the fans during Pirates Feast at David L Lawrence Convention Center Dec. 14, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Neil Walker has reached the first of his four years of arbitration eligibility, a period when his salary can rapidly escalate. Yet the second baseman said he's open to working out a long-term contract with the Pirates.

“This is the city I want to be in,” Walker said Friday at the annual Hot Stove Luncheon that kicks off PirateFest. “I'm excited about my first year of arbitration, (but) I can't really speak too much more on that. I hope to be a Pirate for a long, long time. We'll see how it goes. I know if I take care of myself and stay healthy, everything will work out.”

If he goes through the arbitration process, Walker can expect his salary to rise to around $3 million next season. He made $500,000 this year.

The Pirates approached Walker about a multi-year deal in 2011, but talks broke down and haven't been reopened.

Payroll hike

The Pirates expect to spend about $70 million for players on their 40-man roster in 2013, according to team president Frank Coonelly.

During a Q&A session with season-ticket holders Friday at PirateFest, Coonelly said the team might spend an additional $9 million on payroll than it did in 2012. Coonelly said next season's total “might approach” $70 million and likely would continue to rise in the near future.

Chemistry lesson

General manager Neal Huntington admitted a change in clubhouse chemistry could have been a factor behind the team's second-half collapse last season.

Casey McGehee, who was outgoing and popular, was traded at the July 31 deadline. Kevin Correia, upset about taking on a lesser role, asked to be traded (but never was) after he was bumped out of the starting rotation by Wandy Rodriguez. Newcomers Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez needed time to adjust to their new surroundings.

“We worked to get better, not only for 2012 but for 2013 and beyond, (but) did we disrupt the chemistry?” Huntington said. “Anytime you make a move, that's something you take into consideration.”

This offseason, the Pirates have listened to trade offers for Joel Hanrahan. The veteran closer is well-liked by his teammates, so dealing him could cause another seismic shift in the clubhouse mood. Huntington, though, is not worried.

“I'm not sure I'm fully equipped to get inside our (players') brains and think for them,” Huntington said. “But I think our guys realize ... that change is part of the game. Since the creation of free agency, players have become transitory. You'd like to keep as many guys as you can together. But the reality of the game today is transition.”

Cole set for Indy

Right-hander Gerrit Cole will begin the season in Triple-A Indianapolis. Cole, the top overall draft pick in 2011, will be a non-roster invitee when spring training camp opens Feb. 12.

“Our plan for Gerrit is to have him come to spring training and show us how strong his offseason was and then continue his growth and development,” Huntington said. “When he shows us he's ready to maintain his delivery and unleash his four-pitch package with consistency, we'll bring him to the major leagues.”

The Pirates are hunting for a No. 4 or 5 starting pitcher, but there are no indications any move is imminent. Two rookies — left-hander Jeff Locke, who will attend PirateFest, and right-hander Kyle McPherson, who's nursing a sore shoulder — also are candidates for the rotation.

“We continue to scan the free-agent and trade markets, but we feel good about what (options) we have internally,” Huntington said.

New coach

Manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates hired Jeff Branson as an assistant hitting coach.

Last year, Branson was the hitting coach at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Retro uniform

The Pirates unveiled a 1970s-style alternate uniform, which will be worn on Sunday home games next season.

The uniform, which was used by the 1971 world championship team, features a mustard-yellow cap and a pullover jersey. Unlike the early '70s version, the 2013 jerseys will have the players' names stitched across the back.

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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