Bucs to take patient Meetings approach
GM Huntington says roster may remain same or change vastly
PITTSBURGH -- With the Winter Meetings kicking off from Dec. 8-11 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, maybe it's appropriate that Pirates management is heading West with the anticipation of letting the cards fall where they may.
The baseball cards, that is.
The scene is set for an intriguing week in Vegas -- certainly in the larger realm, where certain big-name free agents could be poised to start signing and other teams will be eager to start dealing. But the Pirates, too, could have some interesting storylines develop next week.
General manager Neal Huntington will arrive in Vegas with a fairly defined course of action. His approach will continue to be passive, as the Pirates are content in waiting to see which of their players pique the interest of other clubs and then negotiate from there.
"We have not targeted to trade any single player on our roster," Huntington said. "We're letting things fall to see if there is a good baseball market out there."
The financial flexibility that the Pirates have going into next season should allow the organization not to have to push its players onto the trading block. With no need for a fire sale of sorts, the Pirates can expect to have the upper hand in any negotiations. Huntington will continue to ask for a high return for any sought-after player, content that if the price is not met, then that's OK, too.
"Our roster next year could be as we sit today, or it could be very different," Huntington said.
While Huntington maintains a stance of not discussing ongoing negotiations externally, he did say that there has "been interest in a handful of our players." That list is believed to include shortstop Jack Wilson, catcher Ronny Paulino, reliever John Grabow and second baseman Freddy Sanchez.
It's been Wilson who has received most of the local Hot Stove headlines. Since Wilson has been the subject of trade whispers for much of the past two years, though, that was certainly expected. The shortstop is entering into the final guaranteed year of his contract.
Trade talks linked Wilson to Los Angeles a week ago, though it appears as if the Dodgers are exploring shortstop options elsewhere in the meantime. Indications are that Detroit, which nearly had a deal for Wilson at the '07 Trade Deadline, will continue to pursue the veteran infielder, but only if the buying price isn't deemed too steep.
Whether or not a deal could come to fruition next week is anyone's guess at this point, though discussions are expected to be had.
The lack of catching depth league-wide has created some external interest in Paulino, while the fact that Grabow is one year away from free agency has the club considering ways to avoid losing the left-handed reliever next offseason without compensation. Sanchez, who will make $6.1 million next season in the final guaranteed year of his contract, isn't likely to be dealt, but isn't off limits either.
There are no indications that the Pirates are currently involved in trade talks anywhere more than at the surface level. That could signify a quiet week to come in Vegas, though, as was evidenced at the Winter Meetings last year, talks can bloom or fizzle in an instant. What seemed to be a sure-thing Jason Bay trade to Cleveland died in the final stages, while out of nowhere, the groundwork for the Salomon Torres-to-Milwaukee trade was almost entirely laid out.
"It's one of those things that I've been part of in a room where we sat and just talked baseball for three days and the next day we worked 12-13 hours to get something done," Huntington said. "In another situation where we anticipated a lot of activity, there was none.
"We've had a lot of conversations, but whether or not anything actually happens, we'll have to see."
Now, while the Pirates aren't actively shopping anyone on the roster, that's not to say that the organization is headed to Vegas without goals and objectives of its own.
As the Pirates continue to wait for the free agency market to set itself, the primary goals that Huntington set at the end of the season continue to be priorities. The acquisition of a veteran starter and another bat for the lineup are issues Huntington continues to look to address, and he said he is exploring options both through the trade market and through free agency.
And while it looks like it could be January before the Pirates know whether any of their free agents -- Doug Mientkiewicz, Jason Michaels, Chris Gomez and Luis Rivas -- are interested in returning to the club in a bench role, Huntington will actively seek to rebuild the team's bench.
Remember that it was at the Winter Meetings last season that the Pirates reached a deal with Gomez.
Still, Huntington urged patience, noting that it wasn't until well into '08 before the nucleus of the team's bench was assembled.
"Certainly you feel better if you have your club in place on Dec. 1, but whether or not it happens on Dec. 1 or Feb. 15, we're confident that the team we will have next year will be a competitive one," he said.
Competitive, even if a team that went 67-95 in 2008 stays largely intact?
"I see that our starting pitching is going to be better," Huntington answered. "We have guys in our bullpen that can step up. As I see it now, I believe that we will be a better club."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.