DALLAS -- Though it still sounds unlikely that the Pirates will consider Chris Leroux a candidate to make the rotation next spring, the Pirates are encouraged by the job Leroux did as a starter in winter ball.
Sent to the Dominican Winter League to pick up some extra innings and work specifically on an offspeed pitch, Leroux finished his winter season with a 1.14 ERA in 23 2/3 innings. He gave up 15 hits and five walks while striking out 21.
Leroux has lobbied for the chance to start in the past, though it appears that he is still destined for a relief role -- probably as a long-relief option -- next year in Pittsburgh. There is always the chance, too, that Leroux could pitch his way into a position where the Pirates would consider him for a periodic start. Anything more regular than that seems unlikely.
"It's still awfully difficult to take a guy who has never thrown more than 80 innings and expect him to throw 200 the next year," noted general manager Neal Huntington.
In 2011, Leroux logged 25 innings with the Pirates and another 68 in the Minors. Based on his performance last season and the fact that he is out of options, Leroux looks like a strong candidate to fill one of the Pirates' seven bullpen spots next year.
"He's a very interesting pitcher with some youth on his side, as well, that's got options [and] that's worked himself to a very good place," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The fact that he can do both [starting and relieving] always adds value. Everybody that I talked to that saw him [in winter ball] was very impressed with the work he was able to do."
Pirates winnowing list of alternatives
DALLAS -- For the second straight day, the Pirates were not involved in any sort of Winter Meetings transaction. Do not mistake that, however, for a complete lack of activity.
The Pirates ended Tuesday nearing an agreement with free-agent outfielder Nate McLouth. While there are still details to finalize, there is a chance a deal could be reached before the Pirates' brass returns to Pittsburgh later in the week.
News involving the Pirates was otherwise scarce on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, which was monopolized by discussion about Albert Pujols' eventual landing spot. For the Pirates, the day was mostly about continuing conversations and getting clarity on players who are or are not available.
"We continue to meet and continue to have conversations with clubs and agents and continue to put the pieces together," general manager Neal Huntington said.
One factor to keep in mind as the week progresses is that the pool of free agents will soon be increasing. The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players is after the Winter Meetings this year, a change from 2010.
The Pirates took advantage of last year's timing by agreeing to terms with outfielder Matt Diaz during the Winter Meetings, just after he had been non-tendered by Atlanta. There is the possibility that the Pirates might find better fits for some of their needs next week once this new crop of players becomes available.
"It has changed things a little bit in terms of how you make your roster moves and how you put things together and the pool of players that is available," Huntington said. "It may not be a bad thing, but it does impact it, I guess, in some small way."
Prospect Wilson in the mix for rotation, bullpen
DALLAS -- If the Pirates have already decided how they're going to use pitching prospect Justin Wilson next year, general manager Neal Huntington is not letting on.
Wilson's name came up on Tuesday as manager Clint Hurdle spoke about potential pieces on his 2012 roster. What must be determined first, however, is what role would be the best fit for Wilson, a fifth-round Draft pick in 2008.
The 24-year-old lefty pitched out of the rotation in High-A (2009) and Double-A (2010) before starting for Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011. He made 21 starts before moving to the bullpen to finish the season. The move was dictated by a need to lessen Wilson's workload and improve his command.
As it turned out, Wilson thrived in the new role and enjoyed an increase in velocity.
"That was very intriguing," Hurdle said of the late-season results. "We saw him pick up some velocity, and that could be an interesting dynamic, as well, as we look forward at what might be best for Justin and how to best serve our ballclub. He's got a chance to be in the mix."
If the Pirates opt to leave Wilson in a relief role, the left-hander could pitch himself into the mix for an Opening Day roster spot. If the club wants to give him another shot at starting, Wilson will likely begin the 2012 season back in Indianapolis.
First baseman Derrek Lee has still not informed the Pirates about whether he intends to accept or reject the club's arbitration offer. Lee has until midnight on Wednesday to make that decision. The Pirates' 40-man roster remained full at the end of Day 2 of the Winter Meetings. If the Pirates want to select someone in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, they will have to create an opening on Wednesday. Even though the Pirates' area of greatest depth seems to be the bullpen, general manager Neal Huntington said that he continues to scour the reliever market. While he continues to look for upgrades, Huntington is also keeping his pulse on this market in case he needs to trade one of his current relievers in order to address another need.
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.