Burnitz close to signing with Pirates

Outfielder Jeromy Burnitz was attempting to finalize terms Tuesday on a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, less than a week after it appeared he had a two-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

The Pirates deal is expected to be worth at least $6 million and would include an option for the 2007 season. Burnitz's agent, Howard Simon, was discussing a $12 million, two-year contract with Baltimore last week, but that agreement never was finalized.

If the Pirates get Burnitz -- and it appeared they needed only to finish up some contract language and have him take a physical on Wednesday -- it would all but complete their offseason wish list.

The Pirates sought to add a power-hitting right fielder, a third baseman and first baseman and improve their right-handed relief pitching, and have picked up veteran players at each position to complement the half-dozen rookies they brought to the majors last season.

After being rejected by former Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller, the Pirates signed third baseman Joe Randa to a $4 million, one-year deal last week. They also signed 41-year-old
reliever Roberto Hernandez to a $2.75 million, one-year contract and dealt utilityman Rob Mackowiak to the White Sox for left-handed reliever Damaso Marte.

Their biggest offseason move to date to improve a club that lost 95 games last season was trading for first baseman Sean Casey, a Pittsburgh-area native and a player they have long coveted. They dealt their No. 5 starter, left-hander Dave Williams, to the Reds for Casey, a .305 career hitter.

The Pirates sought to add Burnitz a year ago, but he signed instead with the Cubs and went on to hit .258 with 24 homers and 87 RBI. Burnitz, who will be 37 in April, has 92 homers while playing for four clubs over the last three seasons and has 299 homers for his career, with 1,302 strikeouts.

The Cubs paid Burnitz $4.5 million last season, then bought out his $7 million option for 2006 for $500,000.

Despite Burnitz's age, the Pirates think his left-handed power should be a big plus at PNC Park, with its cozy right field home-run deck. The Pirates also expect the left-handed hitting
Casey to improve his power numbers; he had nine homers last season after hitting 24 the previous season with Cincinnati.

The Orioles went after Burnitz after they chose not to re-sign outfielder Eric Byrnes, a former Oakland player who was also pursued by the Pirates a year ago. The Pirates also made a pitch for Byrnes last week, but he chose to sign a $2.25 million, one-tear contract with Arizona, or about what the Pirates offered him.

Now, after not getting Byrnes, the Pirates may wind up with the player the Orioles wanted rather than Byrnes.

It remains uncertain whether Baltimore will try to trade for Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, who has asked to be traded. The Orioles' own marquee player, shortstop Miguel Tejada, said recently he wanted a "change of scenery" because the Orioles have not moved to significantly improve their team. Tejada is going into the third year of a $72 million, six-year contract.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said Tuesday he had "no comment at this time" about any matters relating to a possible Ramirez trade.

Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.

If the Pirates finalize the Burnitz contract, they must decide what to do with Craig Wilson, the 29-year-old outfielder-first baseman who hit a club-high 29 homers for them in 2004. Wilson missed most of last season with two hand injuries and was limited to five homers in 197 at-bats.

The Pirates have offered a contract to Wilson, who made $3 million last year and is eligible for salary arbitration. Since Wilson would likely get about $4 million in arbitration, the low-budget Pirates must decided if they can afford to play him that much money to be a part-time player.

Pittsburgh did reach agreement Tuesday with right-hander Ryan Vogelsong on a $555,000, one-year deal that could pay him $125,000 in bonuses as a starter or $75,000 as a reliever.