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Pittsburgh starter awaits trade

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Kris Benson is going about his normal off-day routine, preparing for his next scheduled start Saturday.

The only question is what uniform he'll be wearing.

"Wherever it is, I'm preparing to pitch Saturday," Benson
said.

Facing the Saturday deadline for trading without waivers,
Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield is sorting out offers and
possible interest in perhaps the best starting pitcher available
not named Randy Johnson.

Littlefield said keeping Benson is an option, but that doesn't
seem realistic because Benson (8-8, 4.22 ERA) is unsigned past this
season and probably will command much more money as a free agent
than the Pirates can afford.

Despite the Pirates' improved play -- they've won nine of 12 and 21 of 28 -- Littlefield said they still have too many holes to fill
short term from their farm system. That also signals that a trade
is almost a certainty.

"There are lot of factors involved ... If we do something,
we've got to get pieces that make sense. There are only certain
teams we fit with, and it's hard to say if it's going to be Tuesday
or Saturday or if it's not going to happen," Littlefield said
Tuesday before the Pirates' 8-4 victory over Atlanta.

Littlefield could choose to wait until the weekend, hoping that would increase the pressure on those contenders who haven't added pitching for the stretch drive. Conversely, he risks losing a
player he might covet should a team lose patience and make another
trade before Saturday.

Also, the Pirates don't have a pressing need financially to make a trade, as they did when they were forced to trade third baseman Aramis Ramirez and outfielder Kenny Lofton to Cubs a year ago.

Littlefield has declined to discuss specifics, although it is
known that the Minnesota Twins, Anaheim Angels and New York Mets are interested in Benson. Several days ago, the Twins told slumping first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to expect a trade, and he would fill the Pirates' need for a corner infielder.

Mientkiewicz, 30, is hitting .238 with five homers and 23 RBIs, but has hit above .300 two of the last three seasons. He has long interested the Pirates, who see him up close during the teams'
frequent spring training matchups.

Mientkiewicz's best season was 2001, when he hit .306 with 15 homers and 74 RBIs.

Because Benson could be a rent-a-player -- there is no assurance he will stay with the team that lands him -- the Pirates aren't likely to get as much back as they did from San Diego for
outfielder Brian Giles. He was signed for an additional two
seasons, thus increasing his market vale when the Pirates dealt him
in August

But the Pirates still want a position player and another player
who is close to being major league-ready for Benson, even if that
prospect isn't as talented as left-hander Oliver Perez or
outfielder Jason Bay, who were acquired for Giles.

"We do lack some position player options and at first base and
third base, we don't have long-term options," Littlefield said.
"If we're going to do something, getting a position player makes
sense."

For now, Benson can only wait. Despite losing 4-2 to Atlanta on Monday night, he has been one of the NL's top starters for more
than a month, pitching into the seventh inning in all but two of
his last 12 starts. He hasn't allowed a homer in 11 starts.

"Looking around (Monday night), I knew it would be the last
time I'd be with my teammates in the home dugout," Benson said.
"It was a little tough."