Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big Decisions Loom Walker, Alvarez among Those Who Might Not Be Back after Offseason Maneuvering

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big Decisions Loom Walker, Alvarez among Those Who Might Not Be Back after Offseason Maneuvering

Article excerpt

Standing in the on-deck circle Wednesday night in the ninth inning of the National League wild-card game, Neil Walker's mind wandered slightly.

Asked if he thought about possibly playing his final game as a Pirates player, Walker said, "I'd be lying if I told you no."

"There's no telling," he said. "This is all I know. Tonight is too fresh at this point. I'm going to evaluate, go home, assess the year individually and as a team. But, yeah, that was going through my head a little bit."

What to do with Walker is one of many decisions the Pirates must make this offseason regarding free agents, arbitration-eligible players and filling needs for next year. Free agency begins five days after the conclusion of the World Series, in early November, and arbitration decisions are made not long after.

Two free agents, A.J. Burnett and Aramis Ramirez, are retiring. Of the other six, five of them - J.A. Happ, Antonio Bastardo, Joakim Soria, Joe Blanton and Sean Rodriguez - could fit into the Pirates' future plans. Corey Hart likely will not.

"Of course it's something I would absolutely consider," Happ said. "I have nothing bad to say about my time here. It's all the opposite, everything's been great."

In 11 starts since Happ, a 32-year-old left-hander, joined the Pirates at the trade deadline, he compiled a 1.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 63? innings.

"J.A.'s thrown outstanding since coming in here," general manager Neal Huntington said. "There's interest, it's just a matter of how it all comes together, how it works for him, how it works for us."

Soria, Bastardo and Blanton pitched 118? innings for the best bullpen in baseball. Bastardo, a left-hander acquired from Philadelphia, improved after a so-so start, while Soria, 31, and Blanton, 34, deepened the unit at the deadline.

"Just since I've been here, it's a good organization to be a part of," Blanton said. "Guys in the clubhouse are good. They have a good time, go out and play, and I always think that goes a long way when you're trying to perform."

Blanton and Soria said free-agency consideration wouldn't begin until after the season ended.

Rodriguez served as a useful utility player and defensive replacement for Pedro Alvarez at first base. He struggled offensively until August, when he started hitting well.

"If the Pirates obviously want me back, I don't see why it wouldn't be an option," Rodriguez, 30, said. "I just want to win."

Twelve Pirates are eligible for arbitration. Some surely will be tendered contracts, such as Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Jordy Mercer. Walker and Alvarez present the biggest questions.

The Pirates and Walker have not been able to agree on an extension in the past few years. …

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