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Church adds insurance for Pirates in outfield

| Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

BRADENTON, Fla. — By signing free-agent outfielder Ryan Church, the Pirates will get some insurance in case Jeff Clement struggles or Jose Tabata hits a major roadblock.

Church has agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, which will be finalized after he passes a physical. The deal includes up to another $1.32 million in incentives based on plate appearances.

The Pirates want to use Church, 31, as an extra outfielder to spell Garrett Jones in right field. At some point this summer, fast-rising prospect Jose Tabata is expected to make his Pittsburgh debut and take over in right.

Beginning in spring training, Clement will get every opportunity to win the job at first base. However, Clement, acquired last year from Seattle in the Jack Wilson trade, has little experience at the position.

"I've (played catcher) my entire life," said Clement, who is among more than three dozen players at the Pirates' voluntary minicamp, which begins this morning at the Pirate City complex. "I was a little apprehensive at first about first base, but you eventually get comfortable with it. It's a lot easier than catching."

If Clement is not ready to become the everyday first baseman, Jones will play the position. Church could fill the void in right until Tabata is ready.

Church played last season for the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. A left-handed hitter, Church batted a combined .273 with four homers and 40 RBI.

The Braves non-tendered Church last month, making him a free agent. His checkered health history includes back problems and multiple concussions.

Church's arrival leaves only one open spot on the five-man bench. Backup infielders Bobby Crosby and Ramon Vazquez and catcher Jason Jaramillo are practically guaranteed spots.

That sets up a battle during spring training among Delwyn Young, Brandon Moss and Rule 5 pickup John Raynor.

Young has the versatility to play either second base or the outfield. Moss flopped last season in a bid to win the right field job. Raynor, who has plus speed, must be offered back to the Florida Marlins if the Pirates do not keep him on their active roster.

The Pirates signed three other players yesterday -- right-hander Brian Bass, catcher Luke Carlin and outfielder Brian Myrow -- to minor-league contracts. That gives the team 19 non-roster invitees to spring training.

Bass spent last summer with the Orioles, going 5-3 with a 4.90 ERA in 48 relief outings. He was second among AL relievers in innings pitched.

Carlin split last season between Triple-A Reno and Arizona and also played for Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He's played in 46 games in the majors for the Diamondbacks and Padres.

Myrow hit a combined .307 with 15 homers and 59 RBI in 110 games for Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Indianapolis. He's played in the majors for the Dodgers and Padres.

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