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Pirates considering acquisition of pricey 'rental' players

HOUSTON -- As they set their targets for trade offers, the Pirates are willing to consider acquiring a high-priced "rental" player to provide a boost in the playoff chase.

"We are open to various types of players, based on acquisition cost and fit on the club," general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday.

In previous years, when the Pirates were sellers at the deadline, their strategy was to pick up players who had multiple years of contractual control -- prospects and major leaguers who hadn't yet reached arbitration eligibility.

That paradigm began to change last year, when the Pirates traded for Chris Snyder. The veteran catcher came with a $5.75 million price tag for 2011 and will become a free agent this offseason.

"We took on Chris Snyder's contract because we believed he could make us better," Huntington said.

This season, the Pirates are seeking a late-inning reliever and an impact bat, either a corner infielder or right fielder. Those commodities don't come cheaply.

ESPN analyst Buster Olney yesterday tweeted the Pirates have contacted the Oakland Athletics about outfielder Josh Willingham. An eight-year veteran, Willingham, 32, is making $6 million and can become a free agent this winter.

Another intriguing possibility is former Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who's on pace for 27 homers this season. The Chicago Cubs are not expected to pick up Ramirez's $16 million mutual option for 2012 -- an option that would not automatically vest if he is traded, though he would get a $1 million relocation bonus.

Ramirez, 33, has insisted he will not waive his no-trade clause. But that might only be a ploy to force an interested team to either honor his option or offer a contract extension.

"No-trade clauses often are used as leverage," Huntington said. "If a player flat-out doesn't want to come to Pittsburgh, you're not going to get him to come. But we think more players realize what we're doing ... and are much more open to coming here."

That notion was endorsed yesterday by Houston Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, whom the Pirates have scouted with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in mind.

"Everyone's been talking about (the Pirates)," Pence said yesterday morning before the Pirates beat the Astros, 7-5, in 11 innings at Minute Maid Park. "They're right up there in the standings and they've been there for 90 games. They have the pitching, and that's key.

"Who knows• We play the season hoping to see Cinderella stories. It's fun to watch. Whatever moves are made, we'll see what happens. But they've already got a great team and they're competing."

Pence, 28, is making $6.9 million this season and has two years of arbitration eligibility left. He knows the Astros are rebuilding as the franchise is in the process of being sold, but he is not worried about trade rumors.

"I've been an Astro my whole career. They're all I know," Pence said. "It's completely out of my hands, so I embrace the challenge of doing what I've got to do each day. In this business, you never know, but it's not something you should focus on."

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