Pirates Report

Pirates Report

The Pirates continued to talk with free-agent closer Ugueth Urbina, who helped Florida win the World Series last season. Montreal, another club with severe payroll restrictions, appears to be the Pirates' main competition.

Urbina, 30, was a combined 3-4 with 32 saves and a 2.81 ERA in 72 games with Texas and the Marlins in 2003.

Urbina would be a huge upgrade in the Pirates' bullpen -- without him, Jose Mesa and Juan Acevedo appear to be the top candidates for the vacant closer's job. Mesa had a 6.52 ERA for Philadelphia last season, and Acevedo had a combined 6.57 mark for the Yankees and Toronto.

Orlando Merced had been lobbying to return to the Pirates seemingly since the day in November 1996 when they traded him to Toronto. Now, the first baseman/outfielder is back with the Pirates after signing a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training and a chance to win a bench job.

Merced, 37, hit just .231 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 123 games with Houston last season. He is a .277 lifetime hitter with 103 homers and 585 RBIs in 1,391 games over 13 seasons with the Pirates (1990-96), Toronto (1997), Minnesota (1998), Boston (1998), the Chicago Cubs (1998), Montreal (1999) and Houston (2001-03).

Merced was the runner-up to Houston's Jeff Bagwell in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1990, when he helped the Pirates to the first of three straight NL East titles.

Chip Ganassi, who leads racing teams on both the NASCAR and Indy Racing League circuits, has left the Pirates' board of directors along with North Carolina businessman Bill Allen. Unlike Ganassi, Allen held voting rights on the board.

A new limited partner, Wheeling, W. Va., newspaper executive Robert Nutting, replaces Allen on the board, which includes his father, G. Ogden Nutting; North Carolina sports entrepreneur Donald Beaver; Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy; managing general partner Kevin McClatchy; and a new non-voting member, George Morgan. Only the two Nuttings, Beaver and McClatchy have voting rights on the reorganized board, with McClatchy holding two votes.

NUMBERS GAME: $150 million -- The difference between the New York Yankees' and Pirates' expected Opening Day payrolls. The Yankees' payroll figures to be around $185 million, and the Pirates figure to come in around $35 million.

QUOTE: "It's just not good for the game when one team's payroll is approaching $200 million." -- Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy.

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