MLB Insiders - Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have two players remaining in salary arbitration, and the differences in what they are asking and what the club is offering are nearly identical.

Both left-hander Paul Maholm and center fielder Nate McLouth asked for $3.8 million salaries after having the best seasons of their careers. The Pirates offered $2.75 million to McLouth and $2.65 million to Maholm.

Maholm was 9-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 31 starts, while McLouth hit .276 with 26 home runs, 94 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 152 games.

Arbitration hearings will be held from Feb. 1-20 in Phoenix and heard by three-member panels that will choose one figure or the other. The sides can continue to negotiate until the panel reaches its decision, which comes within 24 hours of the end of the hearing.

"Ideally, you would like to sign everyone and avoid going to the arbitration room if at all possible," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We would prefer not to go, and I'm sure Paul's agent and Nate's agent would prefer to settle. That being said, you can't put your entire energy into just settling at any cost and need to be prepared to go to a hearing if that is what it takes."

While Maholm and McLouth remain optimistic that they can reach settlements, both are mentally preparing themselves for the possibility of going to a hearing.

"I don't want to, but it's also a business, and if that's what needs to be done to resolve the situation, then that's what we'll have to do," Maholm said.

Said McLouth, "I'm indifferent to the whole thing. We've submitted our number and the Pirates have submitted theirs. We'll see if we can find a happy medium."

--1B Adam LaRoche was one of four Pirates players who settled their arbitration cases by signing one-year contracts just before both sides were set to exchange salary figures for a potential hearing. LaRoche will make $7.05 million this year with the chance to add another $100,000 through potential performance bonuses.

LHP John Grabow signed for $2.3 million with $75,000 in potential performance bonuses, LHP Zach Duke agreed to a $2.2 million deal with $100,000 in possible bonuses, and RHP Tyler Yates signed for $1.3 million with $25,000 in potential bonuses.

--3B Andy LaRoche will be given the chance to be the everyday third baseman at the start of the season. The Pirates had thought about bringing someone in to compete with LaRoche after he hit just .152 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 49 games last season after being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a July 31 trade, then decided against it.

--2B Freddy Sanchez said he is over the right shoulder pain that nagged him throughout last season and played a factor in him finishing with a .271 batting average, 39 points below his career mark. Sanchez had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder late in the 2007 season, and it was slower to heal that doctors originally anticipated.

--3B Pedro Alvarez, drafted out of Vanderbilt with the second overall last year, reported to the Florida Instructional League last September out of shape and still remains overweight with the start of spring training less than a month away. The Pirates have asked Alvarez to step up his conditioning and are now considering having him start his professional career at low Class A West Virginia when the season begins in April rather than high Class A Lynchburg.

--Bill Lajoie, the general manager when Detroit won the 1984 World Series, was hired to serve as a special assistant to GM Neal Huntington. Lajoie spent the past three seasons as a special assistant in the Dodgers' front office.

BY THE NUMBERS: 283 -- Losses by the Pirates over the past three seasons.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no question that my expectation is that we have a better team than we did last year." -- Pirates owner Bob Nutting, about not settling for another 67-95 record despite being in yet another rebuilding phase.

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