Pirates making move to save money

Updated: November 25, 2004, 2:21 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Jason Kendall has been one of baseball's steadiest offensive players since his rookie season in 1996, a player who rarely takes an at-bat or a day off. His uniform is always the dirtiest in the clubhouse after a game.

Jason Kendall
Pittsburgh Pirates
147 3 51 86 11 .319

He also has been the Pirates' biggest expense for several seasons and that's why, even though he personifies the tough-guy, grind-'em-out image Pittsburgh sports fans love in their athletes, the Pirates have sought to trade him for several years.

Despite Kendall's six .300 or better seasons and .387 career on-base percentage, the Pirates could no longer justify a salary that hits $10 million -- a little less than one-third of their projected payroll of $35 million -- in 2005.

That's why the Pirates have nearly completed their long-standing goal of shedding Kendall's big contract -- $34 million over the next three seasons -- by working out a trade with Oakland for left-handers Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes, according to a baseball official who spoke Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.

One sign the deal is all but done: The Pirates have removed Kendall's image from their Web page, though his biography remains.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the deal isn't expected to be announced until Friday at the earliest. The Pirates require full medical reports and physicals on all acquired players, stepping up their scrutiny since the Red Sox attempted to deal them right-hander Brandon Lyon in the 2003 trade for reliever Scott Sauerbeck.

Post-trade tests by the Pirates revealed an elbow problem the Red Sox denied knowledge of, though they accepted Lyon back in a reworked trade. Lyon later wound up with Arizona but missed last season with the injury.

Kendall has had two major injuries, a severe ankle dislocation on July 4, 1999, and a 2001 thumb ligament injury that affected him at the plate for two seasons. But he rebounded from both injuries to hit .325 in 2003 and .319 in 2004.

Losing Kendall will leave a big hole atop the Pirates' batting order -- he had a .399 on-base average as a leadoff hitter last season -- and behind the plate. Last season, he broke the team record for games caught in a career, and his 1,409 career hits rank 16th in the history of a franchise that has long produced some of baseball's top hitters.

The Pirates have no catcher ready to take Kendall's place. Humberto Cota is considered a backup at best and one-time No. 1 prospect J.R. House may lack the catching skills necessary to play regularly.

The team spent about $2 million last summer signing first-round draft pick Neil Walker, a Pittsburgh-area high school catcher, but he most likely is years away.

The Pirates could flip Rhodes and the $6.2 million remaining on his contract to another team in a trade for a catcher, though manager Lloyd McClendon may lobby to keep Rhodes.

Despite Rhodes' poor 2004 season (3-3, 5.12 ERA, 46 hits allowed in 38 2/3 innings), he could team with left-handers Mike Gonzalez and John Grabow, right-hander Salomon Torres and closer Jose Mesa to give the Pirates an effective mix of late-inning pitching. Mesa and Torres recently signed new contracts.

The Pirates will keep Redman, who is due nearly $8 million over the next two seasons but will add a second left-hander to a rotation that was predominantly right-handed last season. Oliver Perez (12-10, 2.98 ERA) was the only left-hander to start more than six games.

The deal is expected to net the Pirates a savings of about $15 million, and more if they deal Rhodes. The Athletics are expected to give the Pirates a small amount of money over each of the next two seasons, with the Pirates making a 2007 payment to Oakland to help offset Kendall's $13 million salary that season.

Damian Miller, Oakland's catcher last season, was to have signed a three-year contract Wednesday with Milwaukee, but that deal was held up because of incomplete medical records.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press