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Pirates Trade Rumors - Stark: Bucs Cooling On Carlos Pena, Josh Willingham, Eye Jason Kubel

It looked last night like the Pirates were hot on the trail of the Cubs' Carlos Pena as ESPN Chicago reported the team has been scouting him for over a month, but ESPN's Jayson Stark believes there's a lack of intense interest from Pittsburgh in that slugger and that the Bucs have turned their attention to another hitter.

An official of a club that has been speaking with the Pirates said their No. 1 focus is on finding a "professional hitter." They seem to have backed off on Carlos Pena. They are said to be lukewarm about Josh Willingham. And B.J. Upton doesn't fit that definition. So one name other clubs say Pittsburgh has its eyes on is the Twins' Jason Kubel. But Twins GM Bill Smith told Rumblings his team is "trying to make our club better, we still think we're very much in contention, and we're excited to see where we go in the next two months."

Kubel is 29 and is having a solid season. In 58 games with the Twins, he's hitting .314 with an .836 OPS, 18 home runs and 49 RBIs. He's valued as a 1.2 offensive WAR according to Baseball Reference. He'd be a nice addition, and could probably fit nicely in the outfield, but his contract is set to expire at the end of the season, so in all likelihood, he'd be a rental player.

It looks like Pena's slump of late has turned the Pirates off some. It's hard to blame Huntington and Co. for being hesitant to add another big contract with a slumping bat, but considering Smith's comments, Pena might be the best the Bucs can do. In an ideal world, the Pirates would be able to get Kubel ahead of Pena, but considering Pena would probably be easier to acquire simply by taking his contract and is signed through next year, it's reasonable to expect the front office will give him another look before the trade deadline on Sunday.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.