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Capps a free agent

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The Pirates on Saturday did not tender a contract offer to closer Matt Capps, allowing him to become a free agent. Left-hander Phil Dumatrait also was not tendered by the midnight deadline.

“We attempted to reach agreement with both Matt and Phil prior to the deadline,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Each player preferred to explore free agency. We have not closed any doors but will begin immediately to explore other opportunities to improve our bullpen.”

The Pirates did tender an offer to lefty Zach Duke, who is eligible for arbitration. They also signed shortstop Ronny Cedeno to a one-year, $1.125 contract, avoiding arbitration.

Capps made $2.425 million this past season. He set a career-high with 27 saves in 32 chances, but also had a career-worst 5.80 ERA. In 54 1/3 innings, Capps allowed 10 home runs and 17 walks.

The Pirates mulled trade offers involving Capps this offseason and also over the past few days tried to work out a contract with his agent. Both of those routes yielded minimal progress.

Capps, 26, was the Pirates’ seventh-round draft pick in 2002. After flopping at a starter in the minors, he was converted to a reliever. He became the team’s full-time closer midway through the 2007 season. In five years with the Pirates, Capps is 19-19 with 67 saves and a 3.61 ERA.

Duke made $2.2 million this year, in which he earned his first All-Star bid. Arbitration hearings will be held Feb. 1-21 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Dumatrait, 28, pitched just 13 innings in the majors last season, as he tried to bounce back from shoulder surgery. He’s been used as a starter and long reliever, and at one point was the only lefty in the Pirates’ bullpen.

Cedeno made $822,500 last season. This is his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. The Pirates locked up Cedeno for just a bit more than free-agent Bobby Crosby, who will get $1 million in base salary. Cedeno and Crosby will battle for the starting job during spring training.

Cedeno arrived at the end of July from Seattle as part of the Jack Wilson trade. He batted .258 in 46 games with the Pirates and sometimes, according to manager John Russell, allowed poor at-bats to affect him on the field.

“He makes great plays and he can drive a ball,” Russell said. “Then sometimes you’ll watch him and go, ‘What was that?’ He falls into some mental lapses on the field. We need to get him more focused.”

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