Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee will soon head to Bradenton, Fla., as the Pirates' top candidates to man first base. The two have something else in common: They're Pittsburgh's only remaining unsigned players eligible for salary arbitration, deals having already been reached on 2012 contracts with pitchers Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton and Evan Meek. Dates for their tentative arbitration hearings aren't disclosed, but this much is known: They would occur in St. Petersburg between Feb. 1-21, the timeframe for all hearings.
This is also known: Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington continues to work hard to preclude them. Executives of all Major League clubs prefer negotiated deals to arbitrated ones, but Huntington has a particular motive for hammering out fair agreements. His first, and only, arbitration case was a doozy. That came a year ago, when Ross Ohlendorf, his 1-11 record in 2010 notwithstanding, "beat" the club at the table, nearly quintupling his salary. Ohlendorf's case was groundbreaking in one sense. It openly ushered the arbitration process into the Sabermetrics Age, where determining relative worth isn't limited to traditional stats. "It's no longer just how many games you won or lost, or other main categories," Huntington recalled. "They did a good job arguing based on other metrics." However, Huntington does not have the sense that Ohlendorf's case has somehow made players and their agents less prone to settle, with the feeling, "Hey, if a 1-11 pitcher can win his case ..." "I don't think it particularly empowered players, made the players more willing to go to a hearing -- nor made their clubs more afraid to do so," Huntington said. "The best outcome is to negotiate, try to figure out a fair compensation for what the player has done. All too often [at a hearing], you have to be the bad guy, beat the player down in trying to establish why he shouldn't be paid what he is asking. That's why it's considered a negative process. But you can't be afraid of it, and it is what it is; the Players Association fought for it as the best way to avoid salary conflict." The hearing for Ohlendorf -- released in early December, following an injury-marred season -- was the first for the Bucs since Huntington took office at the end of the 2007 season. Jones and McGehee both are coming off their weakest of three full Major League seasons. Jones batted .243 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs in 423 at-bats. He earned $455,500 last season and filed a request for $2.5 million, which the club countered with an offer of $2.25 million. That $250,000 differential was the smallest among the 52 sets of numbers filed for arbitration. Such circumstances usually lead to quick settlements, and the fact the Pirates and Jones have not yet done so may indicate discussions are ongoing on a longer-term agreement. McGehee was acquired from Milwaukee in a Dec. 12 deal for Jose Veras. He hit 13 homers and drove in 67 runs as the Brewers' regular third baseman. He made $478,000 last season and filed a claim for $2.725 million, with the Pirates submitting an offer of $2.350 million.