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Pirates Pirates finally part with Bell

Littlefield still hoping to trade OF; decision on Meares expected today

Saturday, March 30, 2002

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Outfielder Derek Bell and the Pirates have parted ways, bringing to an end one of the most disastrous free-agent signings in franchise history. But it does not absolve the team from paying Bell the money guaranteed in his contract.

Derek Bell, once a respectable outfielder but now a symbol of everything wrong with the Pirates and Major League Baseball, will be officially released this weekend if not traded. (Gary Tramontina/Associated Press)

Call "Operation Shutdown," "Operation Cutdown."

General Manager Dave Littlefield, who met with Bell yesterday at Pirate City, would not make an official announcement because he is still trying to trade the outfielder to salvage something from an onerous contract.

Bell's locker was cleaned out before the game yesterday, and he shook hands with teammates and coaches telling them he had been released outright. The final thing he did was tip the equipment managers and drive away.

Anticipating that some type of move was forthcoming, Jim Trdinich, the team's media relations director, asked Bell if he would like to make a statement. Said Bell: "No. Just tell them I got in my yacht and rode out into the sunset."

Bell signed to a two-year contract last season worth $9.75 million, which included some deferred payments and a buyout. Given that he hit .173 with 27 hits in 46 games as a Pirates player, that works out to

 
 
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$361,111.11 for each hit or $62,500 for each at-bat.

Even though he hit .183 with the Mets in the second half of the 2000 season, Bell was signed by former general manager Cam Bonifay, who was fired in June when the Pirates flopped in their first season in PNC Park.

At the 2000 winter meetings, Manager Lloyd McClendon said the Bell signing would send "shockwaves through baseball," but he meant it in the context that the Pirates were finally in a position to spend money on free agents.

Littlefield, Bonifay's successor, is left to deal with the aftershocks of a player who underperformed and sealed his fate with his March 17 comments about the competition with Armando Rios and Craig Wilson for the right-field job, which Bell thought belonged to him even though he hit .148 with no extra-base hits in 27 spring training at-bats.

"I ain't going out there and hurting myself in spring training battling for a job," Bell told The Post-Gazette. "If there is competition, I'm going into 'Operation Shutdown' and let them two battle for it. I'll kick back and relax. Tell them exactly what I said. Tell them word for word what I said. I haven't competed for a job since 1991."

When his comments sparked a Pittsburgh firestorm and a national furor, Bell seemed contrite and said the words did not come out the way he intended, but he never retracted them. The day the story was published, Bell said his right groin was hurt in a baserunning drill. He has not played since. He received treatment for his injury each morning, then returned to his 54-foot yacht docked at the Twin Dolphin Marina on the Manatee River.

"Obviously, everybody's frustrated with Derek's comments, and we understand that," Littlefield said. "We're looking for the best players out there. That's what our goal is, to get a better product on the field."

In another move yesterday, the Pirates put Chad Hermansen on the 15-day disabled list yesterday, leaving them three players over the 25-man limit. A decision on infielder Pat Meares, who also has a guaranteed contract, is expected today.

Littlefield said the long-term contracts "are part of the reason we find ourselves in the hole we're in."

The final roster spot will depend on several factors. Reliever Mike Fetters and Armando Rios have injuries, meaning spots could open up if they go on the disabled list. The final cut also depends on whether the Pirates carry 12 pitchers or 14 position players. Mike Lincoln and Tony McKnight are the two pitchers on the bubble, and Adam Hyzdu is in limbo as the final position player.

In yesterday's exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays, No. 2 starter Kip Wells allowed one earned run on five hits in six innings. He struck out seven and walked one, but the Pirates lost, 3-1.

Brian Giles, whose wife is expecting their second child, hit a solo home run -- his second of the spring -- and doubled.

Aramis Ramirez, who has a bruise on his left hand, was scratched from the lineup and will not play today. Ramirez was injured -- eerily similar to how Meares was hurt two years ago -- swinging a bat Thursday. X-rays and a computer scan indicated there was no break, and Ramirez is expected to play in the opener Monday against the New York Mets.

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