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Pirates notebook: Rodriguez will return to Pirates in 2014

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 3:03 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Wandy Rodriguez throws during a game against the Cubs on May 21, 2013, at PNC Park.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pirates starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez warms his throwing hand before throwing to the Braves on Friday, April 19, 2013, at PNC Park.

The Pirates expect that left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who on Friday triggered his $13 million contract option for 2014, will be healthy for the start of spring training.

Arthritis in his elbow and persistent forearm pain limited Rodriguez to 12 starts this past season. His final outing was June 5, when he pulled himself out of a game against the Atlanta Braves after just one-third of an inning.

“The last medical report we got said he should be ready to go,” general manager Neal Huntington said Friday. “When healthy, Wandy has been a very good pitcher.”

Rodriguez will turn 35 in January, a month before spring training begins. In nine major league seasons, he has pitched in 252 games and is 91-92 with a 4.01 ERA and a 1.325 WHIP.

The Pirates are responsible for $7.5 million of Rodriguez's salary. The Houston Astros, from whom Pittsburgh acquired Rodriguez in a July 2012 trade, will pick up the rest.

Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole are locks for the Opening Day starting rotation. Lefty Jeff Locke, who struggled after a superb first half, will battle for a spot.

Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel, who is out of minor league options, will begin spring training as a starting pitcher. Pimentel, 23, made five relief outings last season.

“We'll stretch him out as a starter, then make a determination,” Huntington said.

Pie departs

Outfielder Felix Pie was outrighted off the 40-man roster and elected free agency. Pie, 28, batted .138 with a .366 OPS in 27 games with the Pirates last season.

Whither A.J.?

It seems likely the Pirates will make a $14.1 million qualifying offer to try to lure back free-agent right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Burnett, 36, has not yet publicly revealed whether he will retire. In a recent radio interview on 93.7 FM, Burnett said the Pirates are the only team for whom he would consider pitching next season.

When asked if the Pirates are willing to make a qualifying offer for Burnett, Huntington declined to comment.

The Pirates set up dual offseason strategies, one with Burnett returning and another without him. Huntington is comfortable operating with a bit of uncertainly — but only for a while.

“There will come a point where a decision will have to be made,” Huntington said. “If A.J. returns, he's a nice piece to keep. If he doesn't, there could be other (free-agent) pitchers out there who can help us.

“Either way, it takes more than five starters to get through a season.”

The deadline for clubs to make qualifying offers to eligible free agents is 5 p.m. Monday. A player has seven days after receiving an offer to decide whether to accept.

If the player accepts the offer, he gets a one-year, $14.1 million deal. If he turns it down, he still can negotiate a contract with his old team. If he signs elsewhere, his former team gains a compensatory draft pick.

Burnett has made more than $120 million in his 15-year career. The appeal of spending more time with his family could nudge him into retirement.

“We respect that this is a huge decision for A.J.,” Huntington said. “He's one of those rare guys who has the opportunity to walk away from the game rather than the game walking away from him.”

Spring scrimmages

The Pirates will play their final two exhibition games next spring against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

According to the Phillies' website, the teams will square off March 28 and 29 in Philadelphia. The Pirates have not released their 2014 spring training schedule.

The Pirates played late-spring exhibition games in Philly in 2011 and 2012.

Last year, the Pirates scrimmaged against the Double-A affiliate in Altoona.

The New York Yankees will play the Pirates on Feb. 26 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. That likely will be the Grapefruit League opener for both.

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

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