Pirates shoring up their bullpen

Pirates shoring up their bullpen

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After a wave of roster moves and decisions on Wednesday, the Pirates' hazy bullpen picture moved a few steps closer to clarity.

Knowing that they had to essentially make a decision on Byung-Hyun Kim's future by Wednesday afternoon, the Pirates gave him word that they would trigger the release clause in his contract and unconditionally release the 29-year-old right-hander.

The Pirates also gave lefty Juan Perez his unconditional release and reassigned veteran righty Jaret Wright to Minor League camp. And, in another move to solidify their bullpen, the Pirates acquired Tyler Yates from the Braves for Minor League pitcher Todd Redmond.

After Wednesday's game, the Pirates released Hector Carrasco and Masumi Kuwata announced his retirement, further dwindling the number of relievers competing to make the club.

Kim's one-month tenure with the club was arguably the biggest disappointment in what has turned out to be an impressive spring for a number of the relief pitchers lobbying for the final bullpen spots.

When the Pirates signed Kim to an $850,000 contract back on Feb. 24, the hope was that the righty would be able to bring another dimension to the bullpen with his unique arm angle and years of experience.

At the time, general manager Neal Huntington reiterated that Kim would still have to earn a spot on the team. And Kim did anything but that this spring.

Kim arrived in camp behind in his throwing program, and he wasn't able to make his first appearance until March 10. He struggled from the outset.

In his first four innings of work, Kim allowed eight runs. He rebounded to pitch a scoreless inning of relief on Sunday, but by then, he had fallen behind the rest of the pack.

"It was tough, because we knew he had a late start getting going," Huntington said. "He just didn't pitch well. His last outing was his best outing, but we're in a situation where we've had some young guys have some good springs."

By releasing Kim before 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the team will owe him just $300,000 of his contract.

"We thought he could come in here and compete to make our club, but in that competition, he was outpitched by some other guys," Huntington said. "And the addition of Tyler Yates made it that much easier of a decision. Obviously, it's a financial hit, but we're trying to take the right 12 [pitchers] north."

As for Wright, the decision to remain with the organization is his. He has an escape clause in his contract that, if triggered, will allow him to become a free agent. If he opts not to exercise it, Wright can accept a spot at Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season.

The Pirates' decision to hand Perez his unconditional release was driven by the organization's need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Yates. At the outset of Spring Training, Perez was not among the top group of contenders for one of the final bullpen spots. He then tore a ligament in his left elbow on March 7.

Since the club was unsure of how long Perez's recovery would take, Huntington said that the Pirates decided to take a tougher business approach and release Perez now rather than put him on the 60-day disabled list.

Huntington strongly suggested that Franquelis Osoria, who is out of options on his contract, will join Yates as two of the final four relievers on the Opening Day roster. That leaves three pitchers -- Evan Meek, Sean Burnett and Phil Dumatrait -- left in camp vying for the final two spots.

Burnett has had the most dominant spring of the five, but he could be the odd man out if the Pirates take Dumatrait and decide against having four lefties in the 'pen. Left-handers John Grabow and Damaso Marte are already locks. Burnett has not given up a hit in his last eight appearances.

Dumatrait would seem to have an upper hand at one of the two spots, considering the Pirates have stretched his appearances out this spring to build him up for use as a potential long reliever. He is also out of options and would likely have been lost on waivers if the Pirates had designated him for assignment.

The decision concerning Meek could be the most difficult. The hard-throwing right-hander has shown to have a power arm this spring, and since the team acquired him in December via the Rule 5 Draft, he must remain on the Pirates' 25-man roster the entire season or else be offered back to the Rays for $25,000.

The question now simply becomes whether Meek, who has never thrown above the Double-A level, is ready for the big leagues.

Meek had one final tryout so to speak when he pitched two innings in Wednesday's game. Though erratic with his control at times -- the right-hander issued three walks in those two frames -- he limited Detroit to just one run.

"He did really good damage control," manager John Russell said. "It's one of the things you have to learn how to do. Hopefully he's not in that situation very often, but pitching his way out of it was a good learning experience."

The final decision on those last two bullpen spots is likely to come on Thursday.

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