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Time to fire up the hot stove

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It’s just about time for baseball’s hot stove season to kick in. For Pirates fans that means … well, not much, usually. This year won’t be much different. There will be a couple of lower-tier free agent signings. Cryptic comments from the front office about next year’s payroll and ticket prices. And, of course, the cloud of a potential record-setting 17th straight losing season hanging over everything.

The annual GM meetings have wrapped up in Dana Point, Calif. What used to be a low-key, meet-and-greet event is turning into more of a high-stakes poker tournament, as GMs plot trades and start price-checking the free-agent market. The groundwork for last year’s Marlins-Tigers trade, which went down at the winter meetings, was set during the GM confab. It’s a good bet whatever happens five weeks from now in Las Vegas will be rooted in discussions that took place in Dana Point.

– Starting Friday, free agents are able to sign with any team they choose. The Pirates wouldn’t mind bringing back Doug Mientkiewicz and/or Jason Michaels, but both are seeking more money — and playing time, especially — than the Pirates can offer. They both will explore other options before checking back with the Pirates.

– The Yankees did not pick up Damaso Marte’s $6 million option for 2009. However, beat writer Peter Abraham of LoHud.com reported the Yanks hope to sign Marte to a multi-year extension. If that fails, the lefty would become a free agent.

Marte did not have as much success in pinstripes as he did in black and gold, and Pirates management would not mind having him back in the bullpen. However, Marte is a Type A free agent, meaning any team that signs him would forfeit a draft pick to the Yankees in 2009. The Pirates have an extra draft choice next year because second-round pick Tanner Scheppers did not sign, but the front office is not likely to give it up easily, especially for an older, expensive player such as Marte.

– Brad Fisher was named the Milwaukee Brewers’ third base coach. Last season, Fisher managed the low-A State College Spikes. That gives the Pirates three minor league manager vacancies to fill. Trent Jewett (Triple-A Indianapolis) and Tim Leiper (Double-A Altoona) were let go at the end of the season.

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