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LAS VEGAS — Although the Winter Meetings have been exceptionally slow in terms of player moves, the Pirates may make a ripple before things wrap up tomorrow morning.

“There’s a chance something small could happen while we’re here,” GM Neal Huntington said about a half-hour ago. “Nothing headline-grabbing, but I think there’s a chance (of a trade).”

That may indicate catcher Ronny Paulino will go to Miami in exchange for shortstop Roberto Andino.

Manager John Russell will meet with Pirates beat writers and national media in about 20 minutes. I’ll update as necessary.

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Offers on the table

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The Pirates are making efforts to lock up three key players through at least the 2012 season.

This afternoon, several sources confirmed that multi-year contracts had been offered to center fielder Nate McLouth, catcher Ryan Doumit and left-hander Paul Maholm. All three players are in their first year of arbitration eligibility.

Paul Cobbe, Doumit’s agent, plans to meet tonight with Pirates officials. Gene Casaleggio, who represents McLouth, said a face-to-face chat was not yet necessary. Bo McKinnis, Maholm’s agent, was unavailable for comment.

The Pirates want to finalize the contracts within the next six to eight weeks, before the start of arbitration hearings. If the deals cannot be done by then, the team would switch its offers to one-year deals for the 2009 season in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the arbitration process.

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Morning rumors: Capps, Paulino

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LAS VEGAS — The phones in GM Neal Huntington’s suite must be especially busy this morning, as there are at least two teams who might be interested in trading for closer Matt Capps — though it appears no firm offers have been made — and another team could be focused on catcher Ronny Paulino.

The New York Mets could use Capps in a setup role for newly acquired closer Francisco Rodriguez. The St. Louis Cardinals are seeking a closer after coming up short in the K-Rod sweepstakes.

Capps is in the final year of a contract which will pay him $2.3 million in 2009. He missed two months last season because of shoulder bursitis. In 12 outings after coming off the DL, Capps went 4 for 4 in save opps and posted a 2.70 ERA. He did not allow a walk in his final 19 appearances.

The Pirates are mulling a potential trade with the Florida Marlins for young shortstop Roberto Andino. In the past, the Marlins have inquired about Paulino.

Andino, 24, was the Marlins’ second-round pick in 2002. Florida took him on the advice of scout Marc DelPiano, who recently was hired as a special assistant to Pirates GM Neal Huntington.

Perry Hill, the Pirates’ new infield coach, tutored Andino when Hill was on the Marlins’ coaching staff.

Andino has played in the majors in each of the past four seasons, but has appeared in a total of just 79 games.

Last season, Andino hit .206 (13 for 63) with two homers and nine RBI. He is more highly regarded for his defense than his offense — Andino has a subpar, .250 career on-base percentage.

Andino is out of options. If the Pirates get him, he would be on the Opening Day roster, either as a backup or the starter if Jack Wilson is traded.

If they acquire Andino, the Pirates likely woild cut off talks with free agent David Eckstein. Huntington already has said Luis Cruz is able to fill a backup middle infielder role in 2009.

The Marlins had eyed Paulino for some time. Manager Fredi Gonzalez often referred to Paulino as “The Babe,” because he hits so well against Florida.

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Anyone need a catcher?

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LAS VEGAS — Here are two possible destinations for Pirates fans’ favorite punching bag, catcher Ronny Paulino: Boston and Baltimore.

The Red Sox are planning ahead in case they are unable to re-sign free agent Jason Varitek. Boston has made a price-check on what it might take to get Paulino in a trade.

Orioles GM Andy MacPhail hesitated just a bit when asked if the trade which sent Ramon Hernandez to Cincinnati means former first-round pick Matt Weiters will be the starting catcher for the O’s on Opening Day. MacPhail said the team will try to acquire “one or two” catchers with major league experience in the next couple of weeks. But there is no indication yet that the Orioles have inquired about Paulino.

The Pirates are holding out hope they can get a serviceable prospect in return for Paulino, who spent nearly all of last summer with Triple-A Indianapolis. However, there already were major doubts about Paulino’s grit and after last season there are questions about his ability to stay healthy. All of that damages his trade value.

One last thing … the agent for infielder David Eckstein called back to reiterate he is not in negotiations with the Pirates. No dollar figures have been exchanged. But there seems to be enough momentum to figure that step will be reached in due time.

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Matt who?

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LAS VEGAS — The Reds and Orioles just announced a trade, with Ryan Freel going to Baltimore and catcher Ramon Hernandez going to Cincinnati.

Orioles GM Andy MacPhail said the deal “was all about Matt Weiters,” who likely will become the everyday catcher for the O’s in 2009. That oughta make Pirates fans cringe every time they look at one of Dan Moskos’ linescores next summer.

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The devil’s in the details

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LAS VEGAS — GM Neal Huntington aptly described his offseason duties as “putting together a jigsaw puzzle”: Trade away a player for some prospects, add a free agent here or there, promote a minor leaguer … and hope that it all fits together nicely by Opening Day.

It’s what makes the winter meetings so maddening and also so enjoyable. Every tidbit of information, every whispered rumor can be viewed a dozen ways in the prism of how it might impact the overall roster.

Shortstop Jack Wilson is available. Minnesota is interested. Whom might the Pirates get? Maybe outfielder Delmon Young. But wouldn’t that flood the Pirates’ outfield? Not if, say, Nate McLouth is dealt. But where? Atlanta is interested. What could it offer? Minor league pitching, such as studs Thomas Hanson or Cole Rohrbough. You can never have enough pitching, huh? That’s true, and it would free up, say, Ian Snell in case the Nationals are still interested …

Of course, it’s never that simple or linear in real life. Now, imagine being Huntington, trying to stay focused on the present and future path of the franchise while assessing a dozen offers flying at you from all angles. And don’t forget about team chemistry. And veteran leadership. And lefty-righty balance in the lineup, rotation and bullpen. And your payroll target. And hang-ups with picky agents.

Sometimes, it’s a wonder any deal ever gets done.

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Pirates chat with Eckstein’s agent

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LAS VEGAS — The Pirates continue trolling for a veteran infielder, and today begun discussions with former World Series MVP David Eckstein.

“It’s in the preliminary stages,” Eckstein’s agent, Ryan Gleichowski, said. “There’s mutual interest.”

Late last night, the Pirates lost out on Mark Loretta, who signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates are seeking an experienced middle infielder in case they trade either Jack Wilson or Freddy Sanchez.

Last winter, Eckstein signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract with Toronto. However, he failed to hold the starting shortstop job and was dealt to Arizona at the end of August.

At least four other teams, including the Balitmore Orioles and San Diego Padres, reportedly also are after Eckstein.

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Kubek, not Frattare, goes into Hall of Fame

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LAS VEGAS — Broadcaster Tony Kubek won the Ford Frick Award and will be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Kubek spent 30 years as an analyst for the NBC Game of the Week, the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees.

Kubek is the first TV analyst to receive the Frick Award. This was his sixth year on the ballot.

Former Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattere, who abruptly resigned at the end of the season, was among the finalists for the award.

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Spring training schedule released

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LAS VEGAS — Because of the World Baseball Classic, spring training will be a week longer in 2009. The Pirates today released their 35-game Grapefruit League schedule, which includes 19 home games (three more than last year).

The Pirates’ first game is Feb. 25 against the Phillies at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. The Pirates also will play two night games at McKechnie: March 16 against the Rays and March 27 against the Blue Jays.

The home schedule includes two games against the Phillies, two against the Rays, two against the Red Sox and one against the Yankees.

The annual charity game against Manatee County Community College is slated for April 2.

The Pirates again will use two pricing plans, depending upon the marquee value of the opponent. Tickets are now on sale via www.pirates.com or by calling 941-747-3031.

2009 PITTSBURGH PIRATES SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE
Day Date Opponent Site Time
Wednesday Feb. 25 PHILADELPHIA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Thursday Feb. 26 Boston Fort Myers 1:05 p.m.
Friday Feb. 27 ATLANTA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Saturday Feb. 28 Houston Kissimmee 1:05 p.m.
Sunday March 1 DETROIT BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Monday March 2 CINCINNATI BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday March 3 NETHERLANDS (WBC) BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Wednesday March 4 MINNESOTA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Thursday March 5 Cincinnati Sarasota 1:05 p.m.
Friday March 6 TAMPA BAY BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Saturday March 7 Minnesota Fort Myers 1:05 p.m.
Sunday March 8 HOUSTON BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Monday March 9 BOSTON BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday March 10 Off Day
Wednesday March 11 Toronto Dunedin 1:05 p.m.
Thursday March 12 MINNESOTA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Friday March 13 Philadelphia Clearwater 1:05 p.m.
Saturday March 14 NEW YORK BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Sunday March 15 Tampa Bay Port Charlotte 1:05 p.m.
Monday March 16 TAMPA BAY BRADENTON 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday March 17 New York Tampa 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday March 18 MINNESOTA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Thursday March 19 Off Day
Friday March 20 Boston Fort Myers 1:05 p.m.
Saturday March 21 Cincinnati Sarasota 1:05 p.m.
Sunday March 22 CINCINNATI BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Monday March 23 TAMPA BAY BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday March 24 Atlanta Orlando 6:05 p.m.
Wednesday March 25 Tampa Bay Port Charlotte 7:05 p.m.
Thursday March 26 Off Day
Friday March 27 TORONTO BRADENTON 7:05 p.m.
Saturday March 28 PHILADELPHIA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Sunday March 29 New York Tampa 1:15 p.m.
Monday March 30 CINCINNATI BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday March 31 Minnesota Fort Myers 1:05 p.m.
Wednesday April 1 BOSTON BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Thursday April 2 Cincinnati Sarasota 1:05 p.m.
MANATEE C.C. BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Friday April 3 MINNESOTA BRADENTON 1:05 p.m.
Saturday April 4 Minnesota Fort Myers 1:05 p.m.
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Loretta goes to LA

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LAS VEGAS — The prawns were no problem, but I was stuggling a bit with the mussels. I finally had one perched delicately in my chopsticks when … my cell phone sang out. I reached for the phone and, plop, the mussel slipped back onto my plate. Rats.

The caller during my late-night dinner tonight was Mark Loretta’s agent, who wanted to let me know his client had just agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a sweet deal for Loretta. For the Pirates, it’s another nice-try, better-luck-next-time player move.

Loretta, 37, probably will fill a super-utility role with LA. He also gives the Dodgers a nice insurance policy at the middle infield spots and effectively takes LA out of the Jack Wilson sweepstakes.

In a roughly five-hour span, the Pirates saw the two initial frontrunners for Wilson (LA and Detroit) both drop out of the picture, plus the Bucs lost out on a talented and affordable free agent. All I lost was my grip on a mussel.
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