Four players -- Freddy Sanchez, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady -- have all entered their second season of arbitration eligibility. Each agreed to terms of a contract prior to having to go through the arbitration process last year. The fifth player in the bunch, Jose Bautista, is in his first season of arbitration eligibility.
Though the Pirates have shed some payroll with the losses of Jose Castillo, Shawn Chacon, Tony Armas and Josh Phelps so far this offseason, that excess in payroll will likely be needed to cover the salary increases that these arbitration-eligible players will be receiving.
After making $3.2 million last year, LaRoche will likely exceed the $4 million mark next season. Similarly, Sanchez, after another All-Star season, is expected to have his salary increase to a similar amount. Sanchez avoided arbitration last year when he agreed to a one-year contract worth $2.75 million.
Nady's 2008 salary will likely fall just over $3 million next year, while Grabow will top the $1 million mark for the first time. And after falling just shy of a $400,000 salary in 2007, Bautista will also see a significant pay increase.
Last season, the Pirates tendered contracts to eight arbitration-eligible players, all of whom reached agreements with the club before arbitration hearings were to be held in February.
Pacific Rim update: The Pirates have officially extended an offer to Japanese pitcher Masumi Kuwata, inviting the 39-year-old pitcher to Minor League camp next season. While the invitation has been given, Huntington said the Pirates are willing to give Kuwata the necessary time to consider his course of action before recommitting to the Pirates.
"Most of all, we want to make sure that he is completely comfortable," Huntington said. "We'd love for him to come back. The opportunity to have someone with the professionalism that he showed in the clubhouse last season would be great."
After visiting a doctor in Los Angeles last week, Kuwata returned to Japan, where he is weighing his options on whether or not to return to the U.S. and if so, where he would like to play. It is believed that Pittsburgh is still his first choice due to his relationship with a number of players and his gratitude to the organization for giving him a chance to earn a Major League roster spot last year.
In addition to courting Kuwata, the Pirates have also shown interest in Japanese reliever Kazuo Fukumori. According to a high-ranking team source, the Pirates have been in discussions with Fukumori, who has shown interest in coming to the U.S. if he can get a team to offer him a Major League contract.
With the number of teams reportedly interested in the right-handed reliever, Fukumori should have no problem having that stipulation met.
Hot Stove winds: Rumors of a Brandon Inge trade can be put to rest. While Inge has requested to be dealt from the Tigers following Detroit's acquisition of All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera last week, Pittsburgh will not be his next destination.
Huntington has said that he would like to see Bautista get another season under his belt playing third, and recent transactions by the Pirates have eliminated their need to acquire additional infield depth.
Also, while the Pirates will continue to scour the free-agent market for suitable right-handed relief help, Huntington doesn't look at the void left by the loss of Salomon Torres as a pressing need to fill. Instead, the Pirates feel that Marino Salas, who the club received in Friday's deal that sent Torres to Milwaukee, will be ready to impact the Major League team despite never having played in the Majors before.
"We will continue to search the free-agent market thoroughly and look into potential deals that would make sense for our club," Huntington said. "But we don't feel pressured. We feel Salas has a very good chance of being on our club next season."
Salas split time between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
Minor matters: After spending much of the fall playing winter ball in Mexico, Pirates third-base prospect Neil Walker has returned home to the U.S. In 38 games for the Mazatlan club, Walker hit .268 with 13 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs.
The decision not to play an entire season in Mexico is one that Walker and the Pirates had discussed prior to his arriving there. And with his main objective being to polish his defensive skills at third base, Walker spent enough time playing to meet that goal.
"Reports were very positive," Huntington said of Walker. "He continues to show great strides improving at the position."
The organization is still continuing in its search to find a pitching coach for the Triple-A club. There is a need to replace Jeff Andrews, who was named to the same capacity with the Pirates last month.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.