Veteran McLouth will fill OF role for Bucs
DALLAS — Nearly three years ago, outfielder Nate McLouth cried in the clubhouse at PNC Park after being traded to the Atlanta Braves.
Wednesday, McLouth beamed after signing a one-year, $1.75-million contract to rejoin the Pirates.
"It was the easiest decision I've made in my life," McLouth said. "Pittsburgh's a place that I love."
McLouth, 30, became a free agent when the Atlanta Braves declined his option for 2012. He did not have to wait long for a contract offer.
"The Pirates were the first team I heard from," McLouth said. "I was a little surprised, but I was happy."
McLouth was drafted by the Pirates in 2000. Over the first five years of his career, he hit .261 with an .801 OPS and was an All-Star in 2008. With the Braves, McLouth batted .229 with a .699 OPS.
As he looked for someplace to try to rebuild his career, McLouth figured there was no place like home.
"It worked for Dorothy," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle quipped.
As the Texas Rangers' hitting coach, Hurdle helped Josh Hamilton become a monster at the plate. Hurdle is ready to tackle McLouth's hitting woes.
"I believe that, at his age, this is definitely doable," Hurdle said.
Andrew McCutchen is cemented as the everyday center fielder. McLouth will get most of his playing time spelling starters Alex Presley in left and Jose Tabata in right.
"There will be plenty of at-bats for all the guys," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It's good to bring a quality fourth guy into that mix — not necessarily saying Nate's the fourth outfielder — to carry some weight in case of injury, in case of struggles, and also to give guys days off. We need to be careful about running these guys into the ground."
Shortly after midnight this morning, the Pirates announced that they have released right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. Ohlendorf, 29, pitched in just nine games last season due to a shoulder injury and went 1-3 with an 8.15 ERA. In 2010, Ohlendorf went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA, yet won his arbitration case last offseason and was awarded $2.025 million.
Ohlendorf's departure opened a spot on the 40-man roster for infielder Yamaico Navarro, who was acquired in a trade from Kansas City in exchange for pitcher Brooks Pounders and infielder Diego Goris. Navarro, 24, hit .264 in 59 games last season at Triple-A. In 22 games in the majors for the Royals and Boston Red Sox last year, Navarra hit .250 with a homer and nine RBI.
Catcher Jason Jaramillo and infielder Pedro Ciriaco were designated for assignment, clearing spots on the 40-man roster for McLouth and pitcher Erik Bedard. Unless the Pirates trade them before Monday, Jaramillo and Cedeno will become free agents.
Jaramillo's departure means Michael McKenry and Jose Morales, who yesterday joined the Pirates on a minor-league deal, will battle for the backup catcher's job.
"I don't want to say it's a wide-open competition, but Jose comes into spring training competing to make our club," Huntington said.
Morales, 28, has played in 96 games over four seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies. The switch-hitter has a .289 batting average and a .709 OPS (with zero home runs) in 218 career at-bats.
Late Wednesday night, first baseman Derrek Lee declined the Pirates' offer of salary arbitration. That means the Pirates will get a compensation pick in the 2012 draft if Lee, a Type B free agent, signs with another team.