Pirates' outfield pursuit continues
Bucs miss out on Baldelli, but still in market for veteran upgrade
PITTSBURGH -- It's one week into the new year, and the Pirates still lack the offseason acquisitions that management had hoped to make after another last-place finish in 2008. The team's lone addition to this point is infielder Ramon Vazquez, who, pending any injuries, will assume nothing more than a backup role.
Consequently, the Pirates' quiet presence this offseason has frustrated many fans, who argue that the number of missing pieces is still numerous. However, it's unfair to assume that the lack of activity by the Pirates is the result of a lack of pursuit or effort.
The latest example of a free-agent pursuit gone unsuccessful came Thursday, when outfielder Rocco Baldelli agreed to a one-year contract with the Red Sox that is reportedly worth a guaranteed $500,000, with incentives potentially pushing that salary as high as $2.25 million.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly had made it public that the Bucs were pursuing Baldelli, who would have fit the team's need for a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Another source familiar with negotiations said that the Pirates, like the Red Sox, were willing to give Baldelli a Major League contract.
But it is unlikely that Baldelli's choice to go to Boston was solely a financially-based decision. Part of the Pirates' disadvantage in competing with the Red Sox for Baldelli's services were simply a result of the outfielder's roots. He was born in Rhode Island and grew up rooting for the Red Sox.
The inability to ink Baldelli is just the most recent in a group of instances where the Pirates came up short in their free-agent pursuits. Reliever Derrick Turnbow and starter Daniel Cabrera were both strong targets of Huntington this offseason, and both ended up signing elsewhere.
All the dead-end free-agent attempts would seem to give Huntington legitimate reason for disappointment. However, if that's the case, he's impressively keeping a poker face.
"No, I'm not frustrated," Huntington said after Baldelli's signing with Boston. "Just like any other player that we pursue, it's always a risk. It's a situation where we've pursued some players and haven't been successful, but that's going to happen in any given year. In some situations, it hasn't worked out, but in others, it will."
So with Baldelli off the top of the wish list, where does that now leave Huntington in his quest to add further talent to the roster?
The desire to add a veteran starter to the rotation mix appears to be on the backburner. Huntington acknowledged after Cabrera's signing in late December that the organization would be hard-pressed to find a starter on the free-agent market with a value that fits with the Pirates' plans.
However, on Thursday, Huntington said that despite missing out on Baldelli, the search for another outfielder continues. The focus in recent weeks had been pursuing free-agent outfielders, though Huntington also raised the possibility of a trade addressing this need.
"Whether it's through a trade or free agency, if there's a player in the ideal world that fits multiple years or if the acquisition cost is right, it's something we'll certainly explore," Huntington said.
Huntington revealed something else interesting on Thursday, saying that the Pirates would not rule out signing a left-handed-hitting outfielder if the right player were available for the right price. This is a bit of a different stance than that which the Pirates -- who currently have an all left-handed-hitting outfield trio of Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss -- have held all offseason.
It is likely somewhat of a sign that Huntington's options for a right-handed-hitting outfielder are running thin. And with Moss coming off a season-ending injury and Morgan not having extensive everyday playing experience in the Majors, the Pirates would be well-served by finding a veteran outfielder, regardless of which side of the plate he hits from.
So, yes, those outfielder searches will press forward.
In other free-agent talks, Huntington said that the team has had "ongoing conversations" with Pirates free agents Chris Gomez and Luis Rivas, both of whom remain unsigned. However, Huntington said that "nothing is imminent" in terms of reaching an agreement with either player.
The Pirates have already signed a number of infielders to Minor League contracts this winter, which makes the likelihood of the Bucs bringing back Gomez or Rivas quite slim.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.