Pirates enjoy Meetings flexibility
Bucs have limited shopping list as teams gather
PITTSBURGH -- The Hot Stove scene will shift to Indianapolis on Monday, as baseball executives, agents and writers descend upon the Midwestern city for the annual Winter Meetings. Getting that many baseball minds together in one location typically ignites a flurry of offseason activity.
General manager Neal Huntington has already expressed a willingness and desire to let the 2010 season start with much of the roster as is, meaning that any additions the Pirates make will likely come after some of the offseason's more active teams have set the market.
If the Bucs choose not to be active in Indianapolis, it will not be because of a lack of financial flexibility. With significant dollars freed up by the trades made during the season, the Pirates have money to spend. But both Huntington and president Frank Coonelly have publicly stated that money won't be freely spent just to increase the payroll figure. The fit -- and the price -- will have to be right.
If the Pirates do make a move, it will likely be in an effort to fill one of two holes. The most glaring need is some bullpen help, as the Pirates have already lost right-hander Jesse Chavez and don't have a reliable lefty option.
But there are two things to keep in mind as the Pirates search for relief help. One, Huntington is adamantly against spending significant money on relievers because of their history of year-to-year inconsistency.
"As we look at the reliever market, history dictates that it is not smart to spend $3-4 million on a middle reliever," Huntington said. "Our focus is going to be more on the borderline-type guys."
That said, it's much more likely that the Pirates will wait for the more prominent free-agent relievers to sign and then later this winter make a run for those that command less. The club is also eyeing relievers who would be willing to sign Minor League deals and compete for a chance to win a job on the Major League team.
Two, Huntington does not buy into the theory that a bullpen must have a dominant left-handed setup man to get left-handed hitters out. It's still likely that the Pirates will look closely at the available lefty relievers, but it's not deemed a must.
"We're still looking for relievers that can get right-handed and left-handed hitters out," Huntington said. "If we get a lefty that is just a left-on-left guy, then we have to take a look at our entire bullpen and make sure that's a fit. You don't want to have to have to carry two relievers to do one job."
Outside of bullpen help, expect the Pirates to continue exploring potential upgrades for the offense. If the Pirates are to add a starting position player, it would most likely be to fit in right field or at first base. However, making an outside acquisition for either position is not seen as a necessity.
The Pirates are plenty content in having Garrett Jones assume one of those two starting spots in 2010. And the hope is that Jeff Clement can show enough improvement defensively to be a full-time starter at first base.
Also, with outfield prospect Jose Tabata not too far away from making the jump to Pittsburgh, the club is really not looking for a long-term addition at either right or first.
Otherwise, the Bucs are likely to be fairly quiet this winter. The team is not expected to explore additional starting pitching options. And though there remain two bench spots to fill, even those can be filled internally or through Minor League free agents.
It was at least year's Winter Meetings when news first surfaced that the Pirates had approached various players and offered multi-year contract offers. However, at this point, no such long-term deals appear imminent for Pittsburgh this offseason.
"It remains a part of our plan," Huntington said of deals like those given to Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm and Nate McLouth before the '09 season. "But at this point, there is nothing really specially to comment on that."
It's quite plausible that the Bucs' biggest splash will happen as the Meetings come to a close. The final event of the four-day stay in Indianapolis is the Rule 5 Draft, and the Pirates are in position to pick second if they so choose.
Under Huntington, the Pirates have taken Evan Meek and Donnie Veal in the last two Rule 5 Drafts, and both pitchers have shown the potential to be impressive steals. Though roster space would have to be cleared to make a selection next Thursday, the Bucs are expected to take another low-risk gamble and make a pick.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.