As expected, the Pirates on Wednesday exercised Pedro Alvarez's 2013 contract option for $700,000 and declined an option for next season on catcher Rod Barajas for $3.5 million. Alvarez's option was the first of two included in the four-year, $6.355 million Major League contract he had signed after his first-round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft as the second national choice. The 2014 option also is for $700,000 for the third baseman, who battled with inconsistencies in 2012 while posting career highs in home runs (30) and RBIs (85). Alvarez, who will turn 26 shortly before Spring Training, also increased his batting average 53 points, from .191 in 2011 to .244 last season.
Although the Bucs will continue to explore the possibility of bringing back Barajas at a reduced salary and in a supporting role, declining his option was an automatic after the 37-year-old hit .206, with 11 homers and 31 RBIs, as the team's primary catcher upon being signed as a free agent prior to the 2012 season. Shopping the ranks of free agents for a new backup to Michael McKenry, who will be given the opportunity to claim the starting job next season, would confront the Pirates with numerous options comparable to Barajas. Perhaps in recognition of that weak market, the Rays on Wednesday picked up the $1.5 million option on Jose Molina, whose resume is identical to that of Barajas. Molina, one month older than Barajas, batted .223, with eight homers and 32 RBIs, for Tampa Bay. In another move that was a mere formality, Pittsburgh granted reliever Hisanori Takahashi's unconditional release. The left-hander, who spent the final five weeks of the 2012 season with the Bucs after being claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels, was due to become a free agent in any regard.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.