Hurdle helped seal Overbay deal

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Before flying back to his home near Seattle, Lyle Overbay had lunch this afternoon in Pittsburgh with new manager Clint Hurdle. Overbay came away from the meeting convinced he’d made the right decision by signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Pirates.

“(Hurdle) was a big part of my decision,” Overbay said. “I talked to a lot of people about him. I like that way he goes about it — his honesty, his knowledge of the game, his energy. He made me feel comfortable. I’m an easy-going guy, too, but when it’s time to go after it, I know how to turn the switch. He’s the same way.”

»»» Overbay’s left-handed pop (20 homers last season) should fit nicely in the lineup. With 10 years’ experience in the majors, Overbay is by far the most tenured member of the Pirates’ young infield.

“I don’t remember becoming an old guy, but I guess I am,” Overbay said with a laugh. “I’ve been through some things, so maybe I can help. I’m not going to be a drill sergeant, but I want to be part of the solution.”

The Pirates will hold a one-week minicamp in Bradenton, Fla., in early January. Overbay is not required to attend, but is leaning toward coming to Florida.

“With such a long trip (from Seattle), usually when I come East, I’m there for the duration,” he said. “But if the younger guys are going to be there, I don’t want to not be there and set a bad example. I want to do what I can.”

»»» Overbay’s contract is only for 2011, but he’s already thinking of the future — in Pittsburgh. “I’m hoping it will last longer than (one season),” he said.

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DSL player suspended

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Pitcher Arquimedes Lorenzo, who was playing for the Pirates’ Dominican Summer League team, has been suspended 50 games for an undisclosed violation of MLB’s minor league drug treatment and prevention program. The suspension is effective at the start of next season.

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McCutchen’s market value

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Reds outfielder Jay Bruce’s six-year, $51 million contract extension helps bring Andrew McCutchen’s market value into focus.

McCutchen was the 11th overall pick in 2005. Bruce was drafted 12th.

McCutchen, who debuted in the majors on June 4, 2009, has 1.123 years of service time (262 games). Bruce, who debuted May 27, 2008, has 2.125 years of service time (357 games).

McCutchen’s career stats: .286 batting average, 28 homers, 110 RBI, 55 stolen bases, .365 OBP, .824 OPS.

Bruce’s career stats: .257, 68 homers, 180 RBI, 12 steals, .327 OBP, .800 OPS.

Bruce was eligible for arbitration this year as a “Super Two” player — that is, those with less than three years service time who are among the top 17 percent for cumulative playing time in the majors in this class of players and were on the major league roster for at least 86 days in the previous season.

Unless he also becomes a Super Two, McCutchen won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2013.

The Pirates have not yet approached Steve Hammond, McCutchen’s agent, about a contract extension. But the current market value — $8.5 million a year — is only going to rise the longer they wait.

In March, the Diamondbacks gave outfielder Justin Upton a six-year, $51.25 million contract. Upton was the first overall pick in 2005.

»»» Former third base coach Tony Beasley was named manager of the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate in Harrisburg. The Pirates released Beasley at the end of the season when skipper John Russell was purged.

“I’m very content and blessed!” Beasley told me today in a text message. I’m happy for Beas — he’s one of the finest gentlemen in the game … and also an excellent national anthem singer.

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Kawakami remains an option

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Winter Meetings ended this morning with the Pirates still engaged in talks with the Atlanta Braves about a trade for pitcher Kenshin Kawakami. The Baltimore Orioles no longer seem interested in the right-hander, which could give the Pirates the inside track.  After the Rule 5 draft, GM Neal Huntington stopped to talk with Kawakami’s agent.

There are two potential hangups. The first is how much of Kawakami’s $6.67 million contract the Braves are willing to eat. The second could be the status of lefty Paul Maholm, whom the Pirates have made available.

If the Pirates trade Maholm, they could insert Kawakami into their starting rotation as an experienced (albeit less reliable) replacement.

The Braves are desperate to get rid of the 35-year-old Kawakami. Over the past two seasons, he has a 8-22 record with a 4.32 ERA. Three weeks ago, he was dropped from Atlanta’s 40-man roster and outrighted to Double-A.

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Bucs take SS in Rule 5 draft

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Pirates got a shortstop at the Winter Meetings, after all.

After failing to swing trades for either J.J. Hardy or Jason Bartlett, the Pirates this morning claimed 25-year-old shortstop prospect Josh Rodriguez with the first overall pick of the Rule 5 Draft.

The Cleveland Indians drafted Rodriguez, a former standout at Rice, with one of their two second-round picks in 2006. He hit .297 last season, most of which he spent at Triple-A.

In addition to short, Rodriguez can play second, third and the outfield.

The Pirates must keep Rodriguez on their major league roster all season, or offer him back to the Indians for half of the $50,000 claim fee.

The Pirates had been in talks the past few days, trying to land either Hardy or Bartlett as an upgrade on Ronny Cedeno. However, Bartlett was dealt to the San Diego Padres and the Baltimore Orioles today got Hardy.

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A bigger deal after Diaz?

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When it became clear the Braves would non-tender Matt Diaz, it wasn’t hard to figure he would be a good fit with the Pirates. Corner outfielder. Reasonably priced ($2.55 million this past season). A bit of pop in the bat. Solid against lefties. Used to a platoon role. And, by all accounts, a really good guy in the clubhouse.

So I was not stunned early this morning when Diaz agreed to a two-year, $4.25 million deal with the Pirates. What interests me a lot more, in fact, is what might come next — perhaps another, bigger deal?

One fellow scribe last night described Diaz as “the flavor of the day” at the Winter Meetings. At least a half-dozen other teams expressed interest in him, though it’s not yet clear whether any of them made formal offers.

The Pirates did not sign Diaz to be their everyday right fielder. Most of his experience has been in left field, so there will be a bit of an adjustment period — especially as Diaz learns to play balls off the Clemente Wall at PNC Park. Also, GM Neal Huntington said on Day 1 of these meetings that Ryan Doumit would get the bulk of his playing time in right field this summer and sometimes spell Chris Snyder behind the plate.

Against left-handers, Doumit is a career .256 hitter with a .694 OPS. Diaz hits .335 with a .907 OPS against southpaws. Guess who starts in right when there’s a lefty on the mound?

Does a platoon role justify Ryan Doumit’s $5.1 million salary in 2011?

And what about the starting rotation? Adding Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen creates a bit of a crowd. Huntington mentioned yesterday that he’d be open to trading “one of our established pitchers.” Unless the Pirates plan to flip Correia or Olsen right away, their list of “established” starters pretty much starts and ends with Paul Maholm.

Maholm will make $5.75 million this coming season with a club option for $9.75 million in 2012. He nearly was dealt to the Dodgers last July. And, perhaps coincidentally, Maholm chose last weekend to take a Disney vacation, coming to Orlando just as Huntington and other MLB execs were pouring in for the Winter Meetings.

After back-to-back disappointing seasons, will Maholm rebound in 2011 and improve his trade value before the deadline? Or will Huntington play it safe and take what he can get now?

The Winter Meetings will wrap up in about 25 hours, but that’s plenty of time for more intrigue.

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Matt Diaz gets 2-year deal

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Pirates early today added some right-handed pop to their lineup by signing outfielder Matt Diaz to a two-year contract. Financial terms were not immediately available.

Diaz, 32, became a free agent after being non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves. He has one year of arbitration eligibility left. This year, he made $2.55 million and hit .273, but played in just 84 games due to an infected thumb.

In five seasons as a platoon outfielder with the Braves, Diaz hit .305 with an .815 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). From 2007-09, he hit .369 with a .975 OPS against left-handers.

Diaz represents a likely upgrade over Lastings Milledge, last season’s starting right fielder who managed just 34 RBI in 113 games and eventually fell into a backup role.

Although most of Diaz’s experience is in left field, he likely will platoon in right for the Pirates. Two days ago, general manager Neal Huntington said Ryan Doumit could open the year as the starting right fielder. Diaz’s arrival could be a precursor to another move, perhaps a trade of Doumit or Garrett Jones.

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Pitching upgrades in progress

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Here are some quick-and -irty snippets from GM Neal Huntington’s afternoon confab with the media on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings:

»»» Huntington didn’t confirm the deals with pitchers Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen — that will happen over the next few days, once their physicals are completed — but he did talk in general terms about what the Pirates wanted to acquire for their rotation: “Every club would love power arms who can eat innings. But those guys cost a lot of money and there are very few of them out there. At this point, we’d like to find some stability in the rotation and get a guy who’s going to take the ball every fifth day. You never know with pitchers. We’d like to take a guy who some track record. Maybe there’s a guy out there with some upside who’s coming back from an injury in the past couple of years. Or maybe we add two stabilizers. We need to eat some innings and lighten the load on our bullpen. We need to get deeper into games. We need to give ourselves some options. In the draft, we definitely have a prototype for what we want. With the free market and trades, you make the best of what’s available.

»»» Now, the focus turns to the bullpen: “We’re exploring the free agent and trade markets. We’re exploring the ‘4-A’ free-agent market. We’ve got a lot of internal options, as well. If we add more starters than we need, maybe it pushes a (swing) guy to the bullpen. Maybe it pushes some of our internal options to come into camp in better shape and more ready to go. Too many options is never a bad thing. We love power and strikeouts. But, short of that, a variety of looks and stuff can give a manager options. We’d like a deep bullpen that gives Clint (Hurdle) some options.

»»» Huntington indicated the hunt for an upgrade at shortstop continues, but it might not be culminated until after the Winter Meetings: “We feel like we’ve got some options — maybe not out of the Winter Meetings, but we’ve laid some groundwork. We can improve our position player group overall. Maybe that means adding a bat. Maybe it’s something that improves the overall club, not just the defensive options.”

»»» Don’t expect to see free-agent reliever Chan Ho Park back with the Pirates. “We’re leaving the door open. There hasn’t been a ton of dialogue. Chan Ho is exploring his options. Things are not imminent at all.”

»»» Steve Pearce, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio and Jeff Clement are making progress in their respective injury rehabs and all are expected to be ready for spring training.

»»» The Pirates would like to return right-hander Sean Gallagher to a starting role. But he doesn’t figure to crack the rotation at the start of the year and could be a reliever again if he performs well in the spring.

»»» Hart, on the mend from shoulder surgery, is now a reliever. “It’d be awfully tough to stretch him back out and expect him to eat 200 innings,” Huntington said. “Maybe (he could start) somewhere down the road again, but his quickest path back (to the majors) is as a reliever.”

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Interest in Kawakami cools?

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Signing free agent pitchers Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen may have lessened the Pirates’ interest in trading for Braves righty Kenshin Kawakami.

Atlanta is shopping Kawakami, 35, who will make $6.667 million next season in the final year of his contract. There are indications the Braves would be willing to eat part of that salary for the right deal.

The Pirates are not the only ones in the mix for Kawakami. There is buzz in the lobby that  the Orioles and Braves have discussed a possible trade.

Over two seasons with the Braves, Kawakami is 8-22 with a 4.32 ERA.

»»» Rockies manager Jim Tracy collapsed early this morning while waiting for an elevator here at the Swan resort. Tracy, 54, was alert and responsive as he was being taken to a nearby hospital. He’s still under observation and there’s been no update on his condition or the cause of his collapse.

His tenure with the Pirates was brief and unsuccessful, but Tracy is a good guy. I wish him the best in his recovery.

»»»Tracy had been scheduled for an interview session at 4:30 p.m. today. First-year Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle will hold his meeting with the media Wednesday afternoon.

»»» A few minutes ago, I ran into former Pirates hitting coach Don Long in the lobby. He flew in last night from Seattle to interview with the Mets for their hitting coach job, and will jet back home tonight. Andy Van Slyke also is a candidate for new manager Terry Collins’ staff.

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Correia deal in the works

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Pitching continues to be the Pirates’ focus at the Winter Meetings, as the club is close to wrapping up a two-year deal with right-hander Kevin Correia. The contract reportedly will be worth $8 million.

In 28 games (26 starts) last season with the Padres, Correia went 10-10 with a 5.40 ERA and averaged 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He made $3.6 million.

Correia, 30, was the Giants’ fourth-round draft pick in 2002.

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