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Free-agent catchers: No much there

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When the World Series ended, the clock began ticking on the 72-hour countdown to the deadline for teams to exercise players’ contract options. The Pirates certainly will pick up Pedro Alvarez’s $700,000 option for 2013, and it’s almost a sure thing they will not activate Rod Barajas’ $3.5 million, no-buyout option.

At the end of the season, the Pirates’ payroll was $61.375 million. Next year’s figure will be higher, but that doesn’t mean a free-agent spending spree is about to happen on the North Shore. The combined salaries of Alvarez and six players who are already under contract for 2013 — A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Andrew McCutchen, Clint Barmes and Jose Tabata — will account for $27.7 million. Re-signing a handful of the team’s eight arbitration-eligible players will require around $20 million. That doesn’t leave a lot of cash for the free-agent market.

With Barajas about to be cut loose, the Pirates must come up with another catcher this offseason. Michael McKenry will be back (and isn’t arby eligible until 2015), but there are doubts about his ability to be an everyday catcher. Tony Sanchez, a first-round pick in 2009, will be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but probably needs a bit more time in Triple-A. GM Neal Huntington certainly will try to acquire a big league-ready catcher if he trades closer Joel Hanrahan over the winter. As for the free-agent crop, the pickings are slim (as they were a year ago). Some possible targets for the Pirates:

Gerald Laird: Turns 33 on Nov. 13 … Made $1 million in 2012 … Hit .282 with a .710 OPS … Over the past three seasons, he’s played in a total of 189 games. Verdict — Too risky.

A.J. Pierzynski: Turns 36 on Dec. 30 … Made $6 million in 2012 … Played in 135 games (121 at catcher) and hit .278 with .827 OPS … Threw out 26 percent of base-stealers (27 of 103). Verdict — Can still do a good job, but likely will be too costly for Pirates.

Yorvit Torrealba: 34 years old … Made $3.25 million in 2012 … Hit .227 with .623 OPS in 64 games … Caught 53 games and threw out 22 percent of base-stealers (10 of 45). Verdict — Price tag would have to come way down.

Kelly Shoppach: 33 years old … Made $1.135 million in 2012 … Played in 76 games and hit .233 with 7.33 OPS. Threw out 33 percent of base-stealers (16 of 48) … Has played in 100-plus games only once in his eight-year career. Verdict: Worth a look if price stays steady.

Humberto Quintero: 33 years old … Made $1 million in 2012 … Played in 43 games (40 at catcher) and hit .232 with .598 OPS … Threw out 35 percent of base-stealers (17 of 49) … Has never started more than 74 games at catcher in 10 seasons in majors. Verdict: Perhaps a bargain-basement pickup if unsigned at end of January.

Miguel Olivio: 34 years old … Seattle declined his $3 million option for 2013 … Played in 87 games and hit .222 with .620 OPS … Threw out 31 percent of base-stealers (21 of 68). Verdict: Would be a defensive upgrade, but not much with the bat.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the take this season on Barajas: 37 years old … made $4 million … Played in 104 games (98 at catcher) and hit .206 with .625 OPS … Threw out 6 percent of base-stealers (6 of 99).

»»» McCutchen, Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn are the three finalists for the Gold Glove Award for NL center fielders. The winner will be announced at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2. All three players had a 0.0 wins above replacement, according to Elias. A few other stats to chew on:

Fielding percentage: McCutchen .997, Bourn .995, Stubbs .982

Chances: Bourn 388, McCutchen 371, Stubbs 282

Errors: McCutchen 1, Bourn 2, Stubbs 5

Putouts: Bourn 383. McCutchen 367, Stubbs 272

Assists: Stubbs 5, McCutchen 3, Bourn 3

Range factor (putouts plus assists divided by nine innings): Bourn 2.59, McCutchen 2.44, Stubbs 2.25

Innings played: McCutchen 1,364; Bourn 1,340; Stubbs 1,107

»»» SS Gustavo Nunez, whom the Pirates got last year in the Rule 5 draft, was claimed off waivers by the D’backs. Nunez spent the season recovering from a foot injury and never appeared in a game for the Pirates.

»»» The Pirates have scouted pitcher Shohei Otani, an 18-year-old righty who wants to bypass the Japanese leagues and go straight to the American major leagues. Otani would be subject to MLB’s new caps on international signings, which should reduce the chances for an all-out bidding war. Industry sources I’ve spoken with say that means Otani’s decision could be influenced mostly by other factors — cultural, a team’s chance of winning, etc. In that regard, the Pirates are a long-shot to get Otani. Pittsburgh simply is not a lure for Asian players.

»»» I was never a fan of having one wild-card playoff team per league, so you can safely assume how I feel about the two-wild card system. I’m not the only one who takes an old-school approach to the postseason. Here’s what Chipper Jones told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the Braves and Cards hooked up in their wild-card game: “Quite honestly, I think if we’re going to continue to let teams in year after year, we might as well just say, ‘Screw it.’ Let’s have everybody in. Let’s play 162 games to seed yourselves and then we’ll let the Astros have a shot at it and whoever else wants a shot at it. Six- or seven- game winning streak and you’re the world (champions). We’ll just have a 32-team, single elimination March Madness tournament. That’s the way I think we ought to do it.”

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