PITTSBURGH -- We sit potentially one night away from the 2008 season officially closing, which means the free agency period is soon to open in a frenzy. It has always been a sort of bittersweet night when a World Series champ is crowned -- then 3 1/2 months of baseball withdrawal obviously starts, but so does the intrigue of seeing teams rebuilt and redefined as the offseason progresses.

So, in the final mailbag that can be read at the same time baseball in '08 can be watched, let's hit some questions about both that rebuilding and redefining process in Pittsburgh.

Do you think the Pirates will be active in the trade market or the free-agent market?
-- Scott J., Farmington Court, Pa.

General manager Neal Huntington has identified two needs that he would like to address this offseason -- finding a right-handed power bat and finding a veteran starter. The Pirates will certainly look to both the trade and free-agent market to address both of these needs. The organization will not overpay on a fill-in free agent of sorts, but there are certainly needs that must be addressed and can't be found within the farm system.

It seems to me that Evan Meek made the biggest turnaround after being sent down to the Minors. He had 17 walks in 57-plus innings, but four of those were intentional. Also, he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and only two homers. Teams only hit .195 against him in Triple-A Indianapolis. In his last three outings with the Pirates, he pitched six scoreless innings. What will Pittsburgh do with him?
-- David G., New York

First, David, nice job on the research. It made my job a little bit easier and will make my answer a little bit shorter since you already supported the fact that Meek did, indeed, impress in the Minors. It was clear quite quickly that Meek was overmatched in trying to make the jump from Double-A in 2007 to the Majors in 2008. If it hadn't been for his status as a Rule 5 guy, then he certainly would have started the season with Double-A Altoona.

However, once the experiment of having Meek pitch out of the Pirates' bullpen ran dry, the club was extremely pleased that the Rays didn't take him back. The Pirates see a high ceiling in Meek's power arm, assuming that the right-hander learns to channel his velocity. Meek is currently playing winter ball in Mexico, where he has allowed three earned runs on seven hits in six appearances (4 1/3 innings).

Meek will have to be added to the Pirates' 40-man roster in November, or else he will be exposed (and likely snatched up) in this year's Rule 5 Draft. I expect the Pirates will protect him by making him a 40-man addition and for Meek to compete in Spring Training for a spot on the big league club. Realistically, I'd project him to start '09 in Triple-A, but he will certainly be looked at as a Major League option because of the improvements he made this year.

With the injury to Brandon Moss, are the Pirates able to file a grievance against the Red Sox for maybe another Minor League prospect?
-- Robert G., Carnegie, Pa.

No, the Pirates have no plans to file a grievance against the Red Sox. Management has no reason to believe that Boston traded Moss knowing that he had this sort of knee injury. Moss complained of pain in his knee only once while with Boston (during a series against the Rays in late June-early July), and when the Red Sox asked him if he'd like to have it checked out at that point, Moss opted against an MRI. Again, there is no indication that the Red Sox suspected the injury to be more than a possible slight meniscus tear.

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Is there any possibility that Zach Duke will be in the team's starting rotation next year? For that matter, are any of the 2008 starters penciled in the rotation?
-- Richard S., Berkeley Springs, West Va.

Duke will certainly have a chance to be in the rotation next season, but he is not guaranteed a spot as was the case last year. For that matter, the only '08 starter who has been penciled in is Paul Maholm, for obvious reasons. Duke, like the other seven-or-so candidates, will fight for one of the other four rotation spots in Spring Training, with little to no credence being given to who may have been in the rotation in past years. In Duke's case, if he doesn't make the rotation, he could be plugged into a bullpen role.

How fast do you see Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez moving through the Pirates farm system? I am really looking forward to seeing Andrew McCutchen and Tabata in the outfield at the same time.
-- Anthony A., Yorkville, Pa.

Because the dragged out negotiations and grievance process kept Alvarez from playing at all in the Minors and from playing winter ball, I think that will keep him from being ready to arrive in Pittsburgh in 2009. The organization was optimistic that Alvarez could make a swift move up the organization ladder and be in a Major League uniform in '09, but that was assuming he signed early. That said, I'd expect him to be in the Majors by the end of the 2010 season.

Tabata will be 20 most of next season, which he will likely spend at the Triple-A level. Just think, by late next summer, we're looking at a strong possibility of Alvarez and Tabata playing with each other in Indy. And while I think Alvarez will still make his Major League debut before Tabata, I wouldn't be surprised to see the young outfielder here before the end of the '10 season either. If not then, it should be 2011 for sure.

There has been talk about Nyjer Morgan starting in left field and Moss starting in right. But every time I watched a game, it seemed like it would have been better to have a speedy right fielder. What are the chances of Nyjer starting in right to catch the bloop singles?
-- Jeremy T., Pittsburgh

With the dimensions of PNC Park, it is much more advantageous for the Pirates to have their speedier guy in left as opposed to right. There is much more room to cover in left -- and left-center especially -- and there's no doubt that Morgan's speed will allow him to run down more balls there than most outfielders would reach. Think about it this way: you'd rather have a left fielder who can run down potential extra-base hits in the gap and allow that periodic bloop single to drop in right from time to time.

And finally...

I met my wife in the summer of 1993. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since. I'm thinking she might be the reason. Should I divorce her? PS: I'm totally kidding. I love my wife dearly, but she might be the reason for the Pirates' slump. I tell her she is.
-- Andre V., Ashland, Ore.

You're lucky she puts up with the badgering. Don't ever forget that.