Scouting department shuffled

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The Pirates today made some additions to their scouting department. Gary Robinson, who managed Low-A West Virginia the past two years, was shifted to a pro scout. That likely means that Rick Sofield, whom the Pirates hired a couple weeks ago without a defined role, will be the new manager at West Virginia.

The hiring of Dave Jauss as a major league scout, which I reported a few days ago, is now official. The club also added Alvin Rittman, Jim Dedrick and Rob Guzik as pro scouts. In the amateur scouting department, Jim Asher was promoted to scouting coordinator, Greg Schilz was upgraded to north regional supervisor, Matt Rubel is a national supervisor, Sean Hefferman is an area supervisor and Mike Sansoe is an area supervisor. Juan Mercado was hired as Latin American supervisor. Victor Santana will oversee the club’s scouts in the Dominican Republic.

»»» The Bucs signed left-hander Shairon Martis and outfielder Jake Fox minor league contracts. Martis, 24, began the 2009 season in the Nationals’ starting rotation and won his first five decisions. But he then went into a deep slump, was sent back to the minors and never made it back to the big leagues. This year, he went 8-6 with a 3.05 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg. The Pirates have been interested in Fox, 29, for a while. In 27 games this year for the Orioles, Fox hit .246 with two homers. Both players will get spring training invites.

»»» The deadline to offer arbitration to free agents is midnight tonight. If a team offers arby and the player signs elsewhere, the original team gets a compensation draft pick. The Pirates probably will offer arby to first baseman Derrek Lee, a Type B free agent. At the urging of manager Clint Hurdle, who loves Lee’s power bat and veteran presence, the Pirates are making a major push to lure Lee to re-sign. The Pirates also could (but almost certainly will not) offer arbitration to Type B free agents Ryan Ludwick and Chris Snyder. Because Ryan Doumit, also a Type B, has already signed with the Twins, the Pirates will get a compensation pick between the first and second rounds.

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My MVP ballot

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The 2011 National League MVP will be announced at 2 p.m. today (Tuesday). Every active member of the Baseball Writers Association of America is eligible to vote for the awards — MVP, Cy Young, rookie and manager of the year — and most vote in only one category. All  ballots were due on the final day of the regular season, so postseason performances were not part of the process.

This year, as president of the Pittsburgh chapter of BBWAA, I voted for the NL MVP.  My ballot: 1. Ryan Braun, Brewers; 2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers; 3. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks; 4. Joey Votto, Reds; 5. Albert Pujols, Cardinals; 6. Prince Fielder, Brewers; 7.Roy Halladay, Phillies; 8. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies; 9. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; 10. Shane Victorino, Phillies

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40-man roster is full

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The Pirates tonight filled their 40-man roster by adding first baseman Matt Hague, outfielder Starling Marte, infielder Jordy Mercer and pitchers Rudy Owens, Duke Welker and Justin Wilson. Earlier in the day, they claimed pitcher Jeremy Hefner and catcher Brian Jeroloman off waivers.

Xavier Paul and Eric Fryer were designated for assignment. Matt Pagnozzi was outrighted to Triple-A Indy. “Tough decisions,” GM Neal Huntington said. The Pirates would like to retain all three, but Paul and Pagnozzi can become minor league free agents and most likely will sign elsewhere. Fryer might be claimed by another club.

»»» The Pirates now are pretty well set at catcher, so Huntington now can shift his attention to finding another starting pitcher, a first baseman and — the most pressing need — a shortstop. “We feel like we’ve given ourselves some options,” Huntington said. “We can take a small, deep breath and look at our other priorities.” Recently signed Rod Barajas will be the starting catcher and be spelled by either Jason Jaramillo or Michael McKenry. Tony Sanchez likely will reach Indy sometime this year, continuing his climb toward the majors. There is decent organizational depth in the minors at the position.

»»» Just because the 40-man roster is full doesn’t mean the Pirates will pass up a chance to take a player in the Rule 5 draft. The draft is Dec. 8, giving Huntington ample time to look over who’s available and plot a strategy. The Pirates have roster flexibility — an arbitration-eligible player such as Garrett Jones, Ross Ohlendorf or Jose Veras could be non-tendered to open a roster spot — if they want to make a pick.

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Two waiver claims

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Jeremy Hefner
Jeremy Hefner

After being claimed off waviers in mid-September, catcher Matt Pagnozzi appeared in just two games for the Pirates. Today, Pagnozzi was outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis, essentially ending his time with the Bucs. The Pirates also made two waiver claims this afternoon, taking right-hander Jeremy Hefner from the Padres and catcher Brian Jeroloman from the Blue Jays.

Hefner, 25, this year went 9-7 with a 4.98 ERA for Triple-A Tuscon. He racked up 120 strikeouts in 28 starts. Jeroloman, 26, played this year at Triple-A Las Vegas and hit .240 with 26 RBI in 79 games. There are 36 players on the 40-man roster, with more moves to come later today.

»»» Ryan Doumit has signed a one-year, $3-million deal with the Twins. Last week, Doumit turned down a one-year offer for about the same money from the Dodgers. … Infielder Brandon Wood signed with the Rockies.

»»» Today is the 125th anniversary of the Pirates joining the National League. It’s also the anniversary of one of the best trades in Pirates history. On this date in 1998, GM Cam Bonifay sent reliever Ricado Rincon to the Indians and brought Brian Giles to Pittsburgh.

»»» The wife of ex-Pirates pitcher Kris Benson is back in the news.

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Who to protect from Rule 5 draft?

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Before Friday’s deadline, the Pirates must decide which of their 46 eligible minor leaguers to put on the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. As of Thursday morning, there were five open spots on the roster. Keep in mind that GM Neal Huntington surely wants to head to the MLB winter meetings next month with an open roster spot or two to fill via the Rule 5 draft or a free-agent signing. More spots could be cleared by cutting arbitration-eligible players who would be non-tendered anyway — Jose Veras, Ross Ohlendorf, Brandon Wood and Garrett Jones are possibilities.

Matt Hague
Matt Hague

I consider these five prospects to be practically no-brainers for the 40-man: Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson and Matt Hague. A good argument could be made for protecting Aaron Pribanic, too. Tim Wood, Mike Crotta and Michael Colla also are candidates, but no team can afford to waste precious roster spots on minor league relievers

Two notable players who I expect won’t be protected are Andrew Lambo and Tim Alderson. A year ago, management hoped Lambo would play himself in position for a spot on the MLB roster in 2012; instead, he was demoted to Double-A last summer. Alderson, who was acquired for Freddy Sanchez, is an even more spectacular bust. Quincy Lattimore, Diego Moreno, Cole White, Hunter Strickland, Michael Dubee and Duke Welker also will be passed over.

»»» Yesterday was an off day for me, so I didn’t have a chance to blog about the game times and promotions in the 2012 season. Two pretty good bands, Lifehouse and Daughtry, will play postgame concerts and there is the usual slate of fireworks nights and giveaways — all of which is good news for folks who aren’t drawn to PNC Park to, you know, actually watch baseball.

More intriguing (at least to me) is the handful of unusual starting times. Five games — June 23 vs. the Tigers, July 7 vs. the Giants, Aug. 9 vs. the D’backs, Aug. 16 vs. the Dodgers and Sept. 20 vs. the Brewers — will start at 4:05 p.m., a change that some folks in the front office have lobbied for in the past couple of years.

The home games May 26 vs. the Cubs and June 9 vs. the Royals will begin at 7:15 and will be televised by Fox Sports. This past season, the national networks scrambled to get the Pirates on their schedules after the team got off to a hot start. By the time the Bucs were on national TV, they had fallen out of the race. Next year, Fox is hedging its bets with two early-season appearances.

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Walker contract talks go quiet

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walkerContract talks between the Pirates and second baseman Neil Walker appear to have cooled. A source said the two sides currently are not engaged in discussions about a multi-year deal for Walker, who might qualify for Super 2 status after the 2012 season. However, it’s likely talks will resume before the start of spring training.

The team was deep in talks with Walker in late August, when outfielder Jose Tabata inked a six-year, $14.75 million contract. One hangup in the Walker talks was his possible Super 2 status, which would give him an extra year of arbitration eligibility.

With free agency in full swing, it’s possible the Pirates merely have tabled Walker’s situation until after the club lines up players for next season. The front office also has been busy deciding on contract options for Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder and Ronny Cedeno (all four were declined) and also is working on which prospects will be protected on the 40-man roster and whether or not to offer arbitration to its free agents. I would expect the Pirates to offer arby to Derrek Lee, so they at least get a compensation draft pick if he signs with another team. Doumit, by the way, recently turned down a one-year, $3 million offer from the Dodgers.

»»» Pitchers and catchers will have their first spring training workout Feb. 19 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. The first full-squad workout will be Feb. 24.

»»» Three high-profile prospects — Chase d’Arnaud, Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman — are nursing injuries. Assistant GM Kyle Stark said all three are expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

D’Arnaud injured his right hand when it was stepped on during a Dominican Winter League game. Stark said d’Arnaud “is progressing well” and will not play any more winter ball this offseason. Marte has been out of action in the DWL since Nov. 1 due to tightness in his groin. He is rehabbing at the Pirates’ academy in El Toro, D.R., and will be re-evaluated this week. Grossman will have surgery this week to repair a his hamate bone, which he fractured while playing in the Arizona Fall League. Grossman has been out of action since Nov. 8, and hit .375 with a .472 on-base percentage in 26 AFL games.

»»» Danny Murtaugh, who managed the Pirates to two World Series titles, was honored with a plaque at the Mickey Vernon Sports History Museum in Chadds Ford, Delaware County.

»»» Remember John Raynor? The Pirates took the speedy outfielder with the second pick in the 2009 Rule 5 draft. He played 11 games with the club in 2010 before being sent back to the Marlins. Raynor retired last spring after failing to stick with the Fish, and has returned to North Carolina Wilmington as a student and a coach.

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Barajas will be everyday catcher

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barajasThe Pirates moved fast to find a starting catcher and today signed veteran Rod Barajas to a one-year, $4 million contract. The deal includes a $3.5 million club option for 2013 with no buyout. “They were very aggressive and definitely showed they wanted me to be part of their team,” Barajas said.

The Pirates needed to find a new starting catcher after declining the contract options for Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit. “There’s no question there was a limited market, free agent-wise,” GM Neal Huntington said. “We determined our best course of action was to be aggressive with a guy we wanted. Rod likes the fit, we like the fit, and we were able to get it done.”

Barajas, 36, last season hit .230 with 16 homers in 98 games for the Los Angeles Dodges. He also has played for the Arizona Diamondbacks (1999-2003), Texas Rangers (2004-06), Philadelphia Phillies (2007), Toronto Blue Jays (2008-09) and the New York Mets (2010).

Only twice in his 13-year career has Barajas played in 120 or more games. Huntington said either Jason Jaramillo or Michael McKenry will likely be the backup catcher. The lack of a buyout in Barajas’ contract for 2013 is an indication the Pirates are setting up Tony Sanchez as their starter in 2013.

»»» Customs problems have delayed pitchers Ryan Beckman and Rinku Singh from reporting to their their winter assignments in the Australian Baseball League. Both Pirates prospects will play for the Adelaide Bite.

»»» Ex-Buccos updates: Right-hander Chris Jakubauskas (best known as the guy who was hit in the head by a line drive a couple of years ago in Houston) signed a minor league deal with the D’backs. … Left-hander Donnie Veal signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. The Pirates got Veal in the Rule 5 draft, but his path toward the majors was derailed by Tommy John surgery. … Former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan might be in line for a job with the Baltimore Orioles.

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Jauss hired; Caravan set

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JaussThe Pirates hired Dave Jauss as a major league scout. Jauss formerly worked as bench coach for the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. He was a candidate for the Pirates’ manager job in 1997, but the team instead hired John Russell. Sometime in the next week or so, the Pirates will announce other hirings of scouts and minor league coaches. The list could include one name that might surprise you. (More on that if/when it becomes official.)

»»» The Winter Caravan will be held Dec. 13-15 and will visit 16 communities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Five groups of players and coaches will make stops in Pittsburgh, Uniontown (Dec. 14), St. Mary’s (Dec. 14), Latrobe (Dec. 14), Morgantown, W.Va. (Dec. 14), Erie (Dec. 14), Johnstown (Dec. 14), DuBois (Dec. 14), State College (Dec. 15), Altoona (Dec. 15), Weirton, W.Va./Steubenville, Ohio (Dec. 15), North Fayette (Dec. 14), Charleston, W.Va. (Dec. 15), and Indiana (Dec. 15). Of the 29 events on the tour, 11 are listed as “private,” including both events on the first day which are open only to season-ticket holders. The 22nd annual PirateFest will be held Dec. 17-18 at David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

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