Pirates, Hurdle close in on new deal

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 11:24 a.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Contract extensions are becoming a spring training trend for the Pirates. One year after locking up their best player with a long-term deal, the team is poised to give a one-year extension to manager Clint Hurdle.

Multiple sources confirmed to the Tribune-Review on Monday that Hurdle will be re-signed through the 2014 season with an option for 2015. The official announcement could happen Wednesday, when owner Bob Nutting will visit spring training camp.

Hurdle's contract had been set to expire after the 2013 season. During his regular press briefing after Monday's workout at Pirate City, Hurdle said only that he and the Pirates are discussing terms of a new deal.

“I'm just humbled by the fact that we're having a conversation,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle, 55, has gone 151-173 since being hired in November 2010. The Pirates won 57 games in 2011 and 79 last year under Hurdle.

“He's definitely helped us get to where we are now,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “He's seen us all grow, so it's only natural that he lead the way for however long it may be.”

It might not be long before Walker gets his own extension. After signing Andrew McCutchen to a six-year contract last spring, the Pirates can turn their attention to Walker.

“Absolutely that's a possibility,” team president Frank Coonelly said Monday. “Neil's an important part of this organization, moving forward. The good news is he's got four years with us at the very least. There's not an urgency or a rush, but Neil Walker is part of the core of this organization, and we hope he'll be a Pirate for a long time.”

Management approached Walker two years ago about a multiyear contract, but talks stalled. Walker, 27, is signed for this season at $3.3 million and has three years of salary arbitration eligibility remaining.

Walker said in December that he would welcome a long-term contract with the Pirates.

The timing of Hurdle's extension is important because it prevents his job status from becoming a distraction during the season. Shortstop Clint Barmes said that wasn't the case in 2009, when Hurdle was fired by the Colorado Rockies just 46 games into the season.

“Going in, we all knew — and he did as well — if we didn't start off well, that could be it for him,” said Barmes, who played for the Rockies that season. “That put a lot of pressure on us, just as he felt a lot of pressure. It got to a point where we'd lose a game and wonder, ‘Is tonight going to be the night they fire him?' Extending him now eliminates all those possibilities. It's huge — for him, for us, for everybody.”

Still, Hurdle's new contract is for only one extra season. If the club has another second-half meltdown, as in the past two seasons, Hurdle could be out of a job this winter.

Last year, the Pirates were over .500 from June 3 through Sept. 18 and reached 16 games over .500 four times. However, the team slumped in August and September and wound up with its 20th consecutive losing season.

“From the first day I took this job, I've wanted to reconnect this city with its baseball team,” Hurdle said. “We've taken some steps in that direction, and there still is some unfinished business. There is no guarantee in life or in a job. My job is to do what I need to do every day.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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