BRADENTON, Fla. -- On Friday, all focus could be on baseball for Nate McLouth, who arrived here to begin working out on Wednesday. But looming over the All-Star outfielder is an arbitration hearing scheduled for next Tuesday in Phoenix.

McLouth is the only one of the Pirates' six arbitration-eligible players still without a contract for 2009.

Although he didn't go into much detail, McLouth did say that the Pirates and his agent, Mike Nicotera, continue to have negotiation discussions and are trying to work toward an agreement before having to go before the arbitration panel.

"It's possible we will be able to reach an agreement, and maybe more so today than when I spoke to you last," said McLouth, who expressed some doubt in January about the potential of an agreement being reached. "I don't know what odds I would put on it or what percentage, but there's a chance."

Any reason behind the new sense of guarded optimism?

"I don't know if I have anything concrete I can tell you, but it's just a feeling I get," McLouth said.

When the Pirates and McLouth exchanged salary figures in mid-January, the difference was quite sizeable. After making $425,000 in 2008, McLouth had submitted a figure of $3.8 million for this season. The Pirates countered with a $2.75 million offer for their starting center fielder.

As has been the case for months now, the Pirates and McLouth are talking exclusively about one-year deals, with the idea of a multiyear contract being something that the two sides have said may be explored again, but only down the road.

The Pirates have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since 2004, when Jack Wilson won his case and a $1.85 million salary.