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12/13/08 12:19 AM EST

Bucs put Bautista on free-agent market

Club hopes to re-sign right-hander to a Minor League deal

Pirates reliever Denny Bautista joined the free-agent pool Friday when Pittsburgh opted not to tender him a contract for 2009, but the team intends to try to re-sign the right-hander to a Minor League deal.

The team did tender offers to its other seven arbitration-eligible players before the midnight ET deadline, including All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth.

Those seven players are considered signed for 2009: McLouth, starters Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, relievers John Grabow and Tyler Yates, first baseman Adam LaRoche and catcher Ryan Doumit. Of that group, Doumit, Duke, Maholm and McLouth are all arbitration eligible for the first time and are due for significant raises.

Club officials had been debating Bautista, 28, this week at the Winter Meetings. Acquired in a trade with the Tigers in June, he earned $395,000 in 2008, $5,000 more than the league minimum, but could have seen his salary jump to something in the neighborhood of $1 million through the arbitration process.

The decision to non-tender also gave the Pirates some roster flexibility. When the team formally agreed to terms with free-agent infielder Ramon Vazquez earlier in the day, the 40-man roster temporarily became full.

With Bautista removed, it fell back to 39.

"He would need to make our club, and because it was going to be a 'compete to make the club' situation, we didn't feel it was worth a half-million dollar gamble," Huntington said. "We still think there's a great fit for him here and we think he has a great chance to make our club, but given our potential need for a roster spot going forward to sign a free agent or make trades in which we returned multiple 'rostered' players, and given that we weren't 100 percent convinced that he was going to make our club, we made the tough decision to non-tender him."

That extra spot could go to a player from another club who, like Bautista, was non-tendered Friday. Huntington and his staff will scour that list beginning on Saturday.

Control has been an issue for Bautista, though he still could be attractive to a number of clubs seeking bullpen help if he's willing to accept a more modest salary than Pittsburgh would have had to pay. He allowed 28 earned runs and 28 walks (with 34 strikeouts) in 41 1/3 innings of relief for Pittsburgh. In his 176 innings of Major League work over parts of five seasons, Bautista has issued 97 walks.

It remains to be seen whether Bautista is open to a Minor League offer with an invitation to big league camp.

"Like a lot of players in this situation, I think they want to explore the market," Huntington said. "Time will tell."

Friday's decisions applied to players eligible for arbitration, typically those with more than three years of Major League service but less than the six to qualify for free agency. Players who were tendered contracts are considered signed for 2009 at a salary to be determined, not less than 80 percent of his salary the previous season, and both sides continue negotiating. If a deal cannot be struck, the team and the player will each file a proposed 2009 salary in early January. Those figures are exchanged on Jan. 19, and a date for a salary arbitration hearing is then set for Feb. 1-21.

If the sides still cannot come to terms before the date of the hearing, a representative for the team and one for the player present a case before a panel of arbiters, which chooses one salary or the other.

The Pirates might follow the recent trend in baseball and take things to the next step. The team has approached or intends to approach Maholm, McLouth and Doumit concerning multi-year deals, an opportunity to "buy out" arbitration years and perhaps a free agent season or two.

"It's something that we will make the effort to do," Huntington said. "The last couple of years, it has been something clubs have been aggressive with and have had some success with. On the flip side of it, it only makes sense if you're actually projecting out a savings and/or you're buying out a free agent year or two. ...

"From our standpoint, it's always going to come back to [identifying] the right players at the right dollars at the right time."

Teams seeking cost certainty like the Brewers and Rockies have struck similar agreements with young stars Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki, who forego some of money they would earn by going through arbitration on the table in favor of long-term security.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.