Mientkiewicz, Michaels among targets

Mientkiewicz, Michaels among targets

PITTSBURGH -- As general manager Neal Huntington prepares to shape the Pirates' 2009 roster, he said he plans to approach both outfielder Jason Michaels and utility man Doug Mientkiewicz about the possibility of each fitting into next year's club.

"They have both played well for us in the field and they've been great for us in the clubhouse," Huntington said. "They are the type of people that we would love to bring back. And it's our hope that we'll be able to provide a situation for them that they feel is the one that they want."

The bottom line, however, is that both players' decisions will likely come down to the amount of playing time and money the Pirates can offer to each.

Michaels came to the Pirates in May after being squeezed out of a role in Cleveland. He appeared in 102 games for the Pirates, hitting .228 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 228 at-bats. The 32-year-old outfielder filled in at all three outfield positions.

Michaels has a $2.6 million club option for 2009 the Pirates will not pick up, and there isn't a buyout attached to the option. However, while the team isn't willing to pay that price tag for Michaels, the Pirates are still hopeful that the soon-to-be-free agent Michaels will consider returning.

Asked the final day of the season if he saw himself returning to Pittsburgh in '09, Michaels responded: "Absolutely. I think there could be a role for me on this team again, [much] like the role that I had here this year."

At first glance, there would seem to be minimal playing time possible for Michaels considering the outfield stockpile that the organization has at the Major League and Triple-A levels. Outfielders Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Brandon Moss and Steve Pearce all finished the season with the big league club, while top prospect Andrew McCutchen is not far away from joining them.

However, a potential left-handed-hitting starting outfield of McLouth, Moss and Morgan could make Michaels an intriguing fit as a right-handed-hitting veteran backup.

"There's an opportunity for Jason to pick up multiple at-bats against left-handed pitching," Huntington explained further. "It would also allow [manager John Russell] to rest one of the three regular outfielders."

As for Mientkiewicz, the former Gold Glove first baseman surely increased his stock after proving his versatility this season. He parlayed an invite to Spring Training into a spot on the Opening Day roster and became an unquestionably veteran leader in a relatively young clubhouse. His production off the bench -- 14-for-43 (.326) as a pinch-hitter -- was also notable.

The versatility would certainly be a plus for the Pirates, who could use Mientkiewicz as a backup at both corner infield positions next year. So, too, would his presence in a clubhouse that noticeably fed off his intensity this past season.

Like in Michaels' case, Huntington plans to try and sell a return to Pittsburgh to Mientkiewicz in the coming weeks.

"I think in Doug's case, his ability to play third, his ability to play first and in the outfield, with that versatility and flexibility, that's still intriguing to us," Huntington said.

Mientkiewicz made $750,000 in '08, but he will almost certainly demand a higher salary next year. And the reality is that while both players have expressed an interest in playing for Russell again, with potentially more money and more playing time to be offered elsewhere, both will explore other options.

"We can't commit that we're going to play them once a week or four times a week," Huntington said. "I know we're not going to have an everyday role for either player."

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