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The Pirates declined to tender a 2017 contract to Locke, a formality after he was designated for assignment earlier in the week, as well as catcher Eric Fryer. Additionally, right-hander Brady Dragmire, purchased from the Blue Jays in October, was claimed off waivers by the Rangers. The Bucs now have 38 players on their 40-man roster heading into the Winter Meetings.
Beginning Monday, MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.
The rest of the Pirates' arbitration-eligible players were tendered contracts, ensuring club control for the 2017 season at a salary to be determined through the arbitration process unless a deal is reached before a hearing. They could still be traded this offseason. That includes ace Gerrit Cole, closer Tony Watson, shortstop Jordy Mercer, starter Drew Hutchison and relievers Juan Nicasio and Jared Hughes.
The Bucs were expected to non-tender Locke if they were unable to find a trade partner willing to pay his projected $4.2 million salary in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He and Fryer are now free agents.
LeBlanc's non-guaranteed deal is for less money than he was projected to make in arbitration -- $1.6 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors -- and it provides the Bucs with further cost certainty and an extra lefty in the bullpen. He had been considered a non-tender candidate, but negotiating a lesser deal helped keep him on board.
LeBlanc, 32, figures to fill a multi-inning relief role next season, potentially one of four lefties (along with Watson, setup man Felipe Rivero and veteran Antonio Bastardo) in the bullpen. Watson and Bastardo, however, should be considered trade candidates as they enter their final year of contractual control.
LeBlanc pitched well out of the Pirates' bullpen after coming over from the Mariners in a mid-September trade. The eight-year veteran allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 12 innings over eight appearances.
"We picked him up because he was a guy we were familiar with, a guy we had scouted for a handful of years," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We did need pitching. We did need a guy that could pitch either out of the bullpen or give us some length, give us some innings. He'll come to camp next year competing to make our club."
According to projections by MLB Trade Rumors, the Bucs will add a little more than $23 million to their payroll if they choose to keep all six arbitration-eligible players: Watson ($5.9 million), Nicasio ($4.6 million), Cole ($4.2 million), Mercer ($4 million), Hughes ($2.5 million) and Hutchison ($2.2 million).
Fryer was not yet eligible for arbitration, but he did not have a clear role on the 2017 roster behind starting catcher Francisco Cervelli and backup Chris Stewart, especially not with catching prospect Elias Diaz waiting in the wings and Jacob Stallings still in the organization.
"We'll maintain interest in Eric. If someone wants to put him back on their Major League team, that's great for Eric Fryer and we're happy for him," Huntington said. "We also hope to keep the door open and see if we end up being his best fit as we go forward, given that catching has been volatile. We're anticipating healthy seasons, but just like pitching, it seems like you can never have enough catching. … As we looked at how things would come together, we felt like this was a better use of the roster spot."