The Pittsburgh Pirates are 6.5 games out of first place and just over a quarter into the season, GM Neal Huntington is not in position to start his annual blowup of the team.
However, the Pirates are actively listening to offers for starting pitcher Zach Duke and catcher Ryan Doumit, according to industry sources.
Huntington has shown in the past to begin aggressively engaged in trade talks once Memorial Day comes around.
Last year, Huntington shocked the Pirates fan base trading All-Star centerfielder on June 3, 2009 with the Pirates just 6.5 games out of first place.
Huntington then traded the highly popular Nyjer Morgan to the Washington Nationals on June 30, 2009 when the Pirates were 5.5 games out of place.
Huntington follows the philosophy of trading a player when their value is at the highest and with top prospect Brad Lincoln just weeks away from a callup, there’s some talk around the league that Huntington could pull the trigger on another early June trade.
Duke, 27, has had another hit or miss season thus far, going 3-4 with a 4.47 ERA in ten starts. Duke has had a few rough outings but has given up two earned runs or less in six of his ten starts.
Duke has increased his trade value of late, putting together two straight strong outings, going seven innings and giving up one unearned run in Sunday’s 3-2 walk off win against the Atlanta Braves.
Duke’s impressive outing Sunday afternoon is coming off a 2-1 win against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 18, where Duke went six innings, striking out five and surrendering just one earned run.
Duke and the Pirates agreed to a 1 year deal worth $4.3 million last winter. Duke is arbitration eligible in 2011 and is scheduled to become a free agent in 2012.
The Pirates have not shown any interest in signing Duke long-term, increasing the chances of him being dealt this summer.
Early interest in Duke has centered around the Detroit Tigers, with the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays believed to be kicking the tires on Duke.
A member of the Tigers scouting staff was present for Dukes start against the Phillies on May 18.
Doumit belted his fourth home run of the season Sunday afternoon, hitting a walkoff homer in the 10th to lead the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Braves.
Doumit is batting .286 on the season with 4 home runs and 18 RBI’s on the season.
Doumit is regarded highly by some teams around the league but moving Doumit will be difficult from the Pirates standpoint.
The 29 year old catcher has struggled mightily in the field and is due big money over the next three seasons. His power numbers have also been disappointing, therefore hurting his stock for the kind of return the Pirates were looking for last off-season.
Doumit is due $5.1 million in 2011 and in 2012 has a club option for $7.25 million that doesn’t include a buyout.
Contract Break Down
2010: $3.55 Million; 2011: $5.1 Million
2012: $7.25 Million club option; 2013: $8.25 Million club option; Buyout $500,000
With No. 4 overall pick Tony Sanchez coming up through the ranks as the Pirates future catcher, there is no way that the Pirates will pay Doumit’s club option in 2012.
It is not clear if there are any suitors for Doumit at this time. The Toronto Blue Jays expressed interest during the Winter Meetings but are believed to be no longer in the market for Doumit.
Speaking of the Blue Jays, former Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista is thriving in Toronto.
Bautista is batting just .242 on the season but leads the AL with 14 home runs and is second in the AL with 38 RBI’s.
Inside the Numbers
Ranks 1st in AL in HR (14); Ranks 2nd in AL in RBI (38); Ranks 8th in AL in R (31); Ranks 10th in AL in SLG (.570); Ranks 11th in AL in OPS (.915).
*24 Home Runs since September 7, 2009 is the most in the majors (ESPN Stats)
ESPN’s Buster Olney has a column up on Bautista, regarding how Bautista has fixed his swing by speeding up his release.