DALLAS -- As anticipated, free-agent first baseman Derrek Lee rejected the Pirates' arbitration offer. The deadline for Lee to make a decision was midnight ET on Wednesday.

The Pirates had been anticipating such a decision, aware that Lee was likely going to let Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sign before he did.

General manager Neal Huntington has said that the Pirates will continue to communicate with Lee if the interest is mutual. Lee, 36, is still viewed as an ideal candidate to step in as the Pirates' everyday first baseman in 2011. In 28 games, he hit .337 for the club after being traded over from Baltimore.

If the Pirates are unable to re-sign Lee, they will likely go with a platoon of Garrett Jones and Nick Evans or Jake Fox at first base in 2012. Also, the club would be in line to receive a compensation pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. That selection would come between the Draft's first and second rounds.

Ohlendorf released, spot open for Rule 5 pick

DALLAS -- Ross Ohlendorf has joined the pool of free-agent pitchers after being released by the Pirates late Wednesday night.

By removing Ohlendorf from the 40-man roster, the Pirates now have the option of selecting a player in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Pittsburgh has the eighth selection in the Draft, which will begin at 10 a.m. ET and wrap up the Winter Meetings.

Ohlendorf seemed an unlikely candidate to be a part of the Pirates' 2012 plans after enduring a second straight dismal season on the mound. After finishing 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA in 2010, Ohlendorf won just one game and posted an 8.15 ERA in nine starts last season.

He spent much of 2011 on the disabled list while recovering from a right shoulder strain. In 2010, it was shoulder and back issues that put Ohlendorf on the DL.

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While the Pirates still believe Ohlendorf is better than his recent results would suggest, he was going to be owed more than the Pirates were willing to pay if the club offered him arbitration. Arbitration-eligible for the second year, Ohlendorf would have been guaranteed at least 80 percent of his 2011 salary, which was $2.025 million.

Pittsburgh was going to have to make a decision by midnight ET on Monday about whether the club was willing to go the arbitration route with the 29-year-old right-hander. The Pirates still have another eight arbitration-eligible players to make a decision about before next week's deadline.

Ohlendorf has been in the organization since arriving as part of a 2008 Trade Deadline deal with the Yankees. He won 11 games and made 29 starts for Pittsburgh in '09.

Role player Ciriaco designated for assignment

DALLAS -- The Pirates cut ties with utility infielder Pedro Ciriaco on Wednesday, designating him for assignment in order to open up a roster spot for the organization's newest free-agent additions.

Because of the timing of the roster move, the Pirates will have to release Ciriaco if they cannot trade him by next Monday's deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The same course of action will also have to be taken with catcher Jason Jaramillo, who was also designated for assignment on Wednesday.

Ciriaco offered the Pirates the flexibility to play all across the infield and even in the outfield, though the 26-year-old Dominican native was never expected to be in competition for more than a backup role.

Though Ciriaco was one of the stronger defensive Major League-ready infielders in the organization, the Pirates are confident they have ample options to serve in a backup role next year. That group includes Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Harrison, Matt Hague and Jordy Mercer. Non-roster invitees Nick Evans and Jake Fox are in the mix, too.

The Pirates also continue to look externally for other potential infield options. Not included among those is Wilson Betemit, despite reports to the contrary.

Ciriaco, who was called up from Triple-A six separate times last season, had 10 hits in 33 at-bats with the Pirates. He has appeared in 31 Major League games in parts of two seasons.

"We fully expect to see Pedro in the big leagues somewhere next year," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We felt that our internal options gave us the depth and our roster decisions are getting more and more difficult every time. That's a good thing."