PITTSBURGH -- While the Pirates are prioritizing pitching, first base and shortstop in their current free-agent pursuits, their inquiries have not been limited only to players at those positions of need.
A source confirmed that the Pirates have checked in with free agent third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and outfielder Josh Willingham, both of whom spent time with Oakland in 2011. Third base and the outfield may not be the Pirates' biggest holes to fill, but the fact that the club is seeing what options are out there at those positions suggests it is not entirely content with its current options.
Third base, obviously, belongs to Pedro Alvarez, though the Pirates want to find a Plan B in case Alvarez endures a repeat of his 2011 season. That backup option could come internally (Josh Harrison or Chase d'Arnaud) or it could be filled by signing someone this winter.
Kouzmanoff, who hit .235 in an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, is unlikely to be the answer because he is seeking a starting job. But the Pirates are identifying other third-base options.
"We are going to have a contingency plan in place [at third base]," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We are going to have to protect ourselves as best we can. It is [Alvarez's] job to take. It is his job to keep. But we are going to have to set ourselves up with an alternative in case of injury or in case it shocks us all and doesn't turn around."
Alvarez batted .191 with just four homers and 19 RBIs in 74 games. He missed time due to a right quadriceps injury and made two trips back to Triple-A Indianapolis during the summer.
Willingham, like Kouzmanoff, is eyeing the opportunity to sign with a club that will guarantee him regular playing time. That means he, too, is unlikely to be a fit in Pittsburgh. The 32-year-old right-handed-hitting outfielder hit .246 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs in 136 games last season.
But with the Pirates at least inquiring about available outfielders, it suggests that they are not yet set on having Alex Presley take over a starting role. With Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata expected to fill two-thirds of the 2012 outfield, Presley is the most likely internal option to take that third spot, if the Pirates do not acquire another outfielder.
Prospect Grossman to undergo hand surgery
PITTSBURGH -- Outfield prospect Robbie Grossman is scheduled to undergo surgery on his hamate bone this week after sustaining an injury to his right hand while playing in the Arizona Fall League.
Grossman reported the initial soreness after sliding into a base, though it's unknown if that was when the injury actually occurred. Grossman last appeared in an AFL game on Nov. 8. The switch-hitting outfielder was hitting .375 with five doubles, seven homers, 22 RBIs, six stolen bases and a .472 on-base percentage in 26 AFL games before his fall league stint ended.
The Pirates will get a better feel for Grossman's recovery timeline after the surgery. However, the club does not anticipate the injury keeping Grossman from being ready for the start of Spring Training. The typical recovery time for this type of surgery is one-to-two months. The longer-term concern is Grossman's power. It often takes players at least a year after surgery to regain full power in their swing.
Fellow Pirates outfield prospect Starling Marte and Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez are among those in the organization who have had hamate surgery in the past.
Bucs set key Spring Training dates
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have set several important Spring Training dates, highlighted by Feb. 24, which will mark the club's first full squad workout.
Pitchers and catchers must report to Bradenton, Fla., no later than Feb. 18, with the Pirates' first pitchers/catchers workout scheduled for the following day. Though many position players report much earlier, their official report date is Feb. 23.
The Pirates' first Grapefruit League game is scheduled for March 3 against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. The team's full Spring Training schedule is set.
The Pirates are also expected to hold a January mini-camp in Bradenton, though the team has not yet announced specific dates for that gathering. The annual mini-camp focuses primarily on getting pitchers into their preseason throwing programs.
Starling Marte (groin tightness) has not returned to the field since first feeling the tightness on Nov. 1. The Pirates expect to know more about Marte's status after he is reevaluated early this week. Marte, who was playing in Dominican Winter League, has been getting treatment at the Pirates' Latin American facility in the Dominican Republic.
Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, made his fifth start for the Arizona Fall League's Mesa Solar Sox on Saturday. Cole allowed one earned run on two hits and one walk in three innings. He struck out four, bringing his AFL strikeout total to 16 in 15 innings pitched.
Right-hander Chris Leroux continues to thrive as a starter pitching in the Dominican Winter League. In five starts, Leroux has given up three earned runs and 15 hits in 23 2/3 innings. He has struck out 21 and walked five.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.