By John Perrotto
The Pirates have made improving an anemic on-base percentage their top priority and they feel Chase Headley is just the player who can help.
The Pirates have made Headley, the San Diego Padres' switch-hitting third baseman, their top trade target as they look to make a run at the National League Central title. The Pirates are two games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds going into Thursday night's game at Baltimore and are also three games over .500 at 32-29 in their quest to snap their streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons.
Headley has long held the interest of Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and a source close to the situation said he has been engaging Padres GM Josh Byrnes in trade talks in recent days.
Headley is hitting .272 with a .381 OBP this season in 63 games for the Padres, who have the second-worst record in the major leagues at 22-41, ahead of only the Chicago Cubs (21-41). The 28-year-old Headley also has seven home runs and 31 RBIs.
Headley has a $3.48-million salary this season and two more years of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent following the 2014 season. Pirates owner Bob Nutting has given Huntington permission to add to the payroll in an attempt to make a playoff push.
It is unclear what would happen to third baseman Pedro Alvarez if the Pirates acquire Headley.
The Pirates also have interest in Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair, a 29-year-old left-handed hitter who is getting a chance to play regularly in the majors for the first time in his 10-year professional career.
LaHair is hitting .303 with 12 home runs and a .385 OBP in 55 games but will likely become expendable when the Cubs recall first base prospect Anthony Rizzo from Class AAA Iowa, perhaps at next month's All-Star break.
The Pirates would likely have to give up less in terms of prospects in a trade for LaHair than they would Headley.
While the Pirates are said to have interest in Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, sources from both clubs downplayed the chances of a potential trade.
The Pirates' .279 OBP is the worst in the major leagues.
In other matters:
--Contrary to speculation, the Pirates will not trade closer Joel Hanrahan for a hitter. The Pirates' thinking is they want to keep Hanrahan for a potential pennant race, even though they do feel set-up man Jason Grilli is capable of closing.
--Right-handers Brad Lincoln and Kevin Correia will make their next scheduled starts but a bad outing by either will likely result in them being moved to the bullpen. The Pirates believe Class AAA Indianapolis left-handers Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens are ready to move into the starting rotation.
--Second baseman Neil Walker continues to impress scouts with his improved defense with one saying, "it's still hard to believe he's only been playing the position for a little more than two years because he looks so smooth there now."
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 25 years.