PITTSBURGH—The Pittsburgh Pirates won't offer contracts to left-hander Zach Duke and infielders Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young, designating them for assignment in moves that effectively make them free agents.
The Pirates chose to create roster space for other players in advance of the Rule 5 draft next month.
Pittsburgh made a similar move last winter with closer Matt Capps, who went on to be one of the majors' top relievers for Washington and Minnesota.
By not tendering them contracts, the Pirates are giving up on Duke, their former staff ace, and LaRoche, their former starting third baseman who was considered a key to the Jason Bay trade two years ago.
All three were arbitration-eligible.
The 27-year-old Duke was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA as a rookie in 2005, but hasn't been fewer than five games below .500 since then. He was 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA last season as the Pirates lost 105 games. Before that, he was 11-16, 5-14, 3-8 and 10-15, with an ERA of at least 4.06 each season.
"I am truly thankful for the opportunity the Pirates have given me and genuinely enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh," Duke said in a statement. "I understand this business decision and wish the Pirates and my friends still on the team the best of luck in the future."
LaRoche was the Pirates' starting third baseman in 2009, batting .258 with 12 homers and 64 RBIs. He lost his job to rookie Pedro Alvarez last season while hitting .206 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 247 at-bats, mostly as a bench player. He hit .152 in 2008.
LaRoche, 27, and minor league pitcher Bryan Morris were considered the key players acquired by Pittsburgh in the three-team trade that sent Bay to the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. Morris has yet to pitch for the Pirates.
Young, a bench player, hit .236 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 191 at-bats. One of his season highlights was becoming the first major league player to homer off Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg.
The moves with Duke and LaRoche weren't a surprise, as it was evident late in the season that neither fit in the Pirates' long-term plans. The team estimated it would cost at least $6 million to re-sign Duke for 2011.
The Pirates added right-handers Michael Crotta, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Tony Watson and left-hander Daniel Moskos to their 40-man roster.