The Pirates did what many expected they would Friday night when they parted ways with left-hander Zach Duke.  The announcement came just before the midnight deadline to protect Rule 5 eligible minor league players.

Along with Duke, the Pirates also designated infielder Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young for assignment as well.

The moves should come as no surprise, as Duke continued to struggle in 2010 to get major league hitters out consistently. 

By making the move, the Pirates will likely save close to $6 million, which is around what Duke would have likely earned had they tendered him and possibly went to arbitration.

After his sensational rookie season and a solid first half of 2009, the rest of Duke’s six-plus major-league seasons have been filled with inconsistencies.  The Pirates didn’t need a guy like Duke going forward, and the move had to be made.

The money saved by releasing Duke will be used to fill a spot in the starting rotation. A top-notch starter is very unlikely, but considering the way Duke performed most nights out, a slight upgrade is probable for 2011.

“We know that it’s not going to be easy to find a quality upgrade, and we know it’s going to be a challenge to find a guy who can pitch 180 innings,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

“We plan to reinvest the money that was supposed to go to Zach Duke into the club, but we’ll take the same logical approach into signing a free agent as we did in deciding not to tender him a contract. Just as we made our decision not to offer a contract to Zach Duke, we’ll only spend that money if it is on the right player at the right price.”

Duke ends his career with the Pirates having gone 45-70 with a 4.54 ERA in 160 games (159 starts). He went 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA in 2010.

LaRoche’s offensive struggles were the main reason for the decision on him.  With the emergence of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker in 2010, there is no spot on the diamond left for LaRoche. 

That being the case, it makes much more sense to try and bring in a backup infielder during the offseason who can at least contribute something offensively.

The decision to DFA Young was a bit more surprising, but not unexpected.  Young offered a bit of versatility off the bench, and while he doesn’t play any position particularly well, he offered up a little value with his bat off the bench.

All three guys are free to sign with any team; including the Pirates if they were willing to accept a minor league deal, but I wouldn’t bank on that happening.

With the free spots on the 40-man roster, the Pirates added Jeff Locke, Danny Moskos, Tony Watson, Kyle McPherson and Michael Crotta. The additions filled up the 40-man roster.

None of these guys come as a surprise either, with the exception of protecting McPherson. That isn’t a terrible move after he had a pretty solid season at West Virginia.

One name that was a surprise that was left off the 40-man roster is right-hander Nathan Adcock, who the Pirates are very high on.

Other notables who were left unprotected include Brian Friday, Eric Fryer and former Pitt product Jim Negrych.

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