Bucs avoid arbitration with four players
Grabow, Duke, Yates, LaRoche sign; McLouth, Maholm talking
PITTSBURGH -- Prior to Tuesday's noon ET deadline for unsigned arbitration-eligible players and teams to exchange salary figures, the Pirates reached one-year deals with four of their six arbitration-eligible players.
First baseman Adam LaRoche, left-hander John Grabow, lefty Zach Duke and right-hander Tyler Yates all avoided potential arbitration hearings with these agreements. For Grabow and LaRoche, this marked each one's final year before free agency. Duke is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and Yates is in his second.
However, it is the two players who didn't reach an agreement with the Pirates -- Nate McLouth and Paul Maholm -- that will constitute the bigger story moving forward.
McLouth and Maholm, both of whom are coming off breakout seasons, exchanged salary figures with the Pirates on Tuesday.
Maholm, who went 9-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 2008, has submitted a salary figure of $3.8 million. The Pirates countered with an offer of $2.65 million. Maholm earned $425,000 last season.
As for McLouth, he and the Pirates sit $1.05 million apart in their figures. The team submitted a $2.75 million offer to the center fielder, who has asked for a salary of $3.8 million. McLouth earned $425,000 last season, one in which he made his first All-Star Game appearance and led the Pirates in nearly every offensive category.
General manager Neal Huntington expressed optimism that the Pirates will be able to reach one-year agreements with both players without needing to go to an arbitration hearing. But if not, those hearings take place from Feb. 1-21.
"There are ongoing conversations," Huntington said of the negotiations with both McLouth and Maholm's representatives. "I think both sides understand the downside of going to arbitration, and both sides are going to work hard to avoid that. But if it becomes to where we can't agree, we're not afraid of going to a hearing."
The Pirates engaged in talks with both players about potential multiyear deals earlier this offseason, but those talks, in both cases, stalled fairly quickly.
The door for a multiyear deal with McLouth appears to be closed because of significantly differing salary expectations. However, Huntington said on Tuesday that the team continues to discuss the option of a long-term contract for Maholm.
"Both sides remain open to see if there is a solid multiyear fit," Huntington said. "If not, we'll turn our attention to reaching a one-year agreement."
As for the four players who did reach agreements with the Pirates, each will see a sizeable increase in salary for 2009.
After making $5 million last season, LaRoche will make $7.05 million in 2009, with another $100,000 available in potential performance bonuses. That 2009 salary figure will make LaRoche the team's second-highest-paid player behind shortstop Jack Wilson, who will make $7.25 million.
Like LaRoche, Grabow was also in his final year of arbitration eligibility. The left-handed reliever will earn a base salary of $2.3 million this season, with an additional $75,000 possible in incentives. That salary is slightly more than double the $1.135 million Grabow earned a year ago.
Grabow has spent the past five full seasons with the Pirates, but he had no better season than the one he had last year. In 2008, Grabow appeared in a career-high 74 games and finished with a career-best 2.84 ERA.
Duke's salary jumped from $400,000 in 2008 to a base salary of $2.2 million in '09. He, too, has built in incentives totaling a possible additional $100,000.
For Duke, the '08 season was another trying one for the young starter. He went 5-14 with 4.82 ERA last year and is not yet guaranteed of being in the rotation for 2009. Because of the salary he now demands, Duke has a slight upper hand for a rotation spot, but will still have to earn that spot in Spring Training.
After earning $800,000 last season, Yates will make $1.3 million this year, with another $25,000 possible through incentives.
Yates is expected to serve as the Pirates' primary right-handed setup man out of the bullpen, a role that he held for much of last season. Yates finished the '08 season -- his first with the Pirates -- 6-3 with a 4.66 ERA in 72 appearances. He struck out 63 and walked 41.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.