Mientkiewicz thinks return is unlikely
Veteran has not been contacted by Pirates this offseason
PITTSBURGH -- After months of waiting for the Pirates to make him an offer, veteran Doug Mientkiewicz said on Monday that he believes the door is just about closed on a return to Pittsburgh in 2009.
According to Mientkiewicz, the Pirates have not made an offer or any attempts to get in touch with him as the offseason has progressed. He has not spoken with general manager Neal Huntington or manager John Russell, a close friend of Mientkiewicz's, since the season ended.
Huntington has said many times this offseason that the organization would like to explore ways to bring Mientkiewicz back. But the lack of action to back up those words has convinced Mientkiewicz that he is not a part of the team's 2009 plan.
"I keep reading that they want me, but I haven't heard anything," Mientkiewicz said. "I'm obviously still open to [returning], but as time passes, I've kind of moved on in terms of having hope about going back there. I think, right now, a phone call or something would have been nice, but I don't take it personally. They have a job to do, and if they don't think I can help out, so be it. I enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh.
"I feel like I said enough to [Huntington] about my interest in coming back," Mientkiewicz continued. "I don't know what I've done or what I didn't do to not have a response or a reply. I am a grown boy, and I can swallow it if they tell me I'm not good enough or not the right fit for the team. I just hope there's nothing that I have done other than playing that's keeping me from them or keeping my name out of it. I thought I did as good on and off the field as I could have."
The biggest concern from management's perspective has been finding a fit for Mientkiewicz on the field. In terms of Mientkiewicz's leadership abilities and clubhouse presence, Pirates management certainly would welcome both back. It's the availability of playing time that hasn't been so clear cut.
As things stand now, the Pirates will open the season with an all left-handed-hitting outfield. Consequently, Huntington's priority continues to be to seek out a right-handed-hitting option. That could explain why any pursuit of the left-handed-hitting Mientkiewicz may have been put on the backburner.
Furthermore, the signing of infielder Ramon Vazquez gives the Pirates a backup at third base. Mientkiewicz played that role last season.
It appears, though, that this concern about playing time and fit is more of a concern by management than it is with Mientkiewicz, who said that he is quite comfortable being used in a veteran backup role wherever he can be. He realizes that the youth movement in Pittsburgh would squeeze him out of any possible starting spot. However, Mientkiewicz still believes he could contribute.
And when he looks at how the Pirates' roster stands now, he sees some glaring holes on the bench.
"They're going to need some veteran guys," Mientkiewicz said. "The kids that they are going to throw out there are going to need a breather mentally. They need someone off the bench to hit, and right now, I don't see it.
"I understand that you bring those guys up and you want them to play, but asking them to play every day is asking a lot of a group that may or may not be ready," he added. "You have to find out, but every so often, you want a guy like [Jason Michaels] or myself to go out there."
While not naming specific teams, Mientkiewicz said that there are a number of clubs that have contacted him this offseason. In a few instances, Mientkiewicz said, the possibility of a platoon role at first base has also been discussed.
Other clubs have approached Mientkiewicz about taking on a role more like the one he held in Pittsburgh last year, when he was a backup at first, third and in the outfield.
"I'm not worried about finding a job," he said. "I definitely have a lot of other places that I could go. It's to the point where I can't keep pushing other teams away and waiting to hear from Neal."
Mientkiewicz's hard-nosed playing style made him an instant fan favorite in Pittsburgh last season. He hit .277 with 30 RBIs in 125 games and saw significant time at third base for the first time in his career.
After spending his first six full Major League seasons in Minnesota, the former Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman has now played for six teams in the past five seasons.
Earlier this offseason, Mientkiewicz said that he felt he owed the Pirates the courtesy of bringing back any offer he received before accepting it. Mientkiewicz said on Monday that he still intends to do so, but that at this point, he isn't expecting a counteroffer to be made.
"I gave them my word, so I have to [tell them]," Mientkiewicz said. "But I think from the way the winter has been handled, I think their answer to me is a pretty definitive answer. It's probably a, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'
"That being said, am I open still to Pittsburgh? Yeah, sure," he continued. "But in my heart, I'm moving on."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.