Mueller closing in on decision about Pirates
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Free-agent third baseman Bill Mueller is expected to choose his new employer today, and the Pirates are thought to still be the front-runner, as has been the case since they upgraded their contract offer Friday from two to three years.
But that does not necessarily mean he will pick Pittsburgh.
A source close to the negotiations yesterday said Mueller would decide "within 24 hours" where he will play next season and strongly suggested a desire to play on the West Coast still could have an influence. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants also have made offers and have reiterated their interest in the early part of this week.
Although the Mueller family maintains its offseason home in Missouri, Mueller spent parts of six seasons with the Giants, and his wife, Amy, is from San Francisco. Mueller also has longtime ties to Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, a former assistant GM with the Giants.
"But the Pirates are very much in this," the source said.
Mueller, 34, was the American League batting champion in 2003, his first year with the Boston Red Sox, and stayed with them the past two seasons.
A 10-year veteran and switch-hitter, he batted .295 last season with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. He also posted a .972 fielding percentage that ranked fourth among all third basemen in Major League Baseball. The previous year, he batted .283 with 12 home runs as part of Boston's World Series championship team.
The Pirates are believed to be the only team to offer Mueller a three-year contract, a strong indicator of their level of interest. The amount of their offer is not known, but Mueller made $2.5 million last season and has been seeking a salary in the range of $4 million.
General manager Dave Littlefield described Mueller yesterday as "a good fit" for the Pirates, "relative to what is available through trades and free agency."
"We want him," new manager Jim Tracy said. "We're going after him."
The signing of Mueller would not address the Pirates' desire to add power. And, given that they already acquired Sean Casey -- who has not topped 25 home runs in any season -- for first base, that would seem to make a priority out of producing a big bat for right field, the last remaining position on the team's needs list.
"Power certainly is a part of the equation," Littlefield said. "In the general scope, I would say we want to score more runs. Power and getting on base are the two components we'd like to get more than anything else. As we set up, power would be nice to have fit in with Casey and Jason Bay in the middle of the lineup."
The Pirates had inquired with Los Angeles about a trade for outfielder Milton Bradley, who might have been used in that role, but Bradley was dealt yesterday to the Oakland Athletics.
Also yesterday, the Pirates finally announced their acquisition of reliever Damaso Marte from the Chicago White Sox for utilityman Rob Mackowiak, a trade that was agreed upon Thursday. The delay came because each player had to pass physicals early this week.
Marte, 30, has been one of the American League's top left-handed setup men the past four years. He was 3-4 last season in 66 appearances with four saves and a 3.77 earned run average.
His addition gives the Pirates three left-handers in the bullpen, one more than most teams, but Littlefield, speaking about the deal for the first time, said there would be room. The Pirates plan to have one of those left-handers, Mike Gonzalez, be their closer and the other, John Grabow, continue in a late-inning role.
"Not only is Marte talented, but he also provides some more depth to a bullpen behind a fairly young starting rotation," Littlefield said. "And he gives us some protection in the pen in the hope that Gonzalez can close."
The Pirates have yet to announce their signing of another reliever, Roberto Hernandez, through free agency. That is expected tomorrow.
(Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at 412-263-1938 or email@example.com.)
and the link...