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Happy news, upbeat Q&As

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Pirates officials were pleased to read today that Paul Maholm is optimistic about getting a contract done rather than going to arbitration. The two sides continue to talk, and one source put the odds of a multi-year deal being done in the next couple of weeks at better than 50-50.

The Q&A sessions for fans with players and management at PirateFest did not uncover any sexy, new details. The players’ session was especially upbeat, with both Ryan Doumit and Nyjer Morgan expressing confidence that a turnaround is near.

“I’m looking forward to seeing people wearing ‘Buctober’ T-shirts,” Doumit said. Morgan referred to it as “Buctoberfest.”

· Andy LaRoche was asked what his big brother Adam is doing differently this offseason to avoid his usual April batting funk.

“He’s doing the same thing he always does in the offseason: hunting,” Andy said. “I haven’t talked to the guy all winter. He’s been in a tree stand somewhere.”

· Top draft pick Pedro Alvarez arrived at minicamp last week a bit pudgy and out of shape. That caused one fan to ask point-blank, was Pedro worth it?

“Absolutely. Unequivocally,” GM Neal Huntington said. “He’s a special talent, a special hitter with power.”

· There were more questions about re-signing Doug Mientkiewicz, causing Huntington to half-jokingly wonder if Doug has become “the second-most popular player in Pittsburgh.” The answer was the same as yesterday: the door is still open, but a deal does not appear likely.

· President Frank Coonelly pointed out that Mientkiewicz signed just a few days before spring training last year. Coonelly said the team still was in touch with free agents and he would “be very surprised if we didn’t put together as good a bench as we had last year.”

· The Pirates have contacted Pedro Martinez, but it appears the aging, former standout is asking for too much money.

“We’re exploring any number of veteran starters,” Huntington said. “But we have to be sure that veteran starter can still pitch and perform. Even if we don’t sign a veteran starter, I feel very good about our pitching staff. We don’t have to sign a veteran starting pitcher.”

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