First base, right field on Bucs' wish list at Meetings
A left-handed bat could also be used to platoon at either spot with Sanchez, Tabata
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' front office will head to Florida on Sunday for this year's Winter Meetings with a fairly specific shopping list.
Most of the talk has centered around finding offensive help. With the way the Pirates are constructed right now, there is room for that help at first base and in right field. The Bucs finished eighth in OPS and ninth in runs scored in the National League in 2013, so being able to find some more consistent run producers might be the first order of business. Next on the list could be a starting pitcher, but that might be dependent on A.J. Burnett's decision to come back to Pittsburgh or move on -- either to retirement or another team.
Here is a quick glance at the Pirates' situation heading into the Winter Meetings, which are back at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the site of the Meetings in 2010:
First base: The Pirates employed a platoon at first base for most of the 2013 season. Gaby Sanchez did a nice job against lefties (.987 OPS), but his OPS against right-handed pitching was just .619. He did have a .742 OPS with 14 homers against righties back in '11, but there may not be confidence in his ability to be a full-time player. Garrett Jones and Justin Morneau, the lefty-hitting parts of the platoon at different points of this past season, will not be back, so the Pirates could be looking for an upgrade from Sanchez to be a mainstay in the lineup or a platoon mate, if an internal option like Andrew Lambo isn't given a shot.
Right field: The Pirates struggled to get production from right field for much of the 2013 season, finishing last in the NL with a .684 OPS from the spot. Jose Tabata was streaky, then was hurt, though he finished well. Travis Snider never really got himself going while dealing with a foot injury. Marlon Byrd was even better than hoped for when he came via trade in August, hitting .318/.357/.486, then going 8-for-22 with five RBIs in the postseason. But he signed a two-year deal with the Phillies, and the Pirates are less likely to sign someone to a multiyear deal with prospect Gregory Polanco getting close. There are still the internal options of Tabata, Snider and Lambo, along with newcomer Jaff Decker, but if the right established bat is available for a year or for another platoon, the Pirates would be interested.
Bench depth: The key spot the Pirates might be looking for help is up the middle, particularly at shortstop. Josh Harrison looks like he's ready to establish himself as a valuable utilityman -- one who played five positions in 2013. Pittsburgh is committed to Jordy Mercer as the starter at short, but given that he's played in just 106 big league games at the position, the Bucs will feel better if they have someone to protect and/or complement Mercer in 2014. That could still be Clint Barmes if he can't find a starting job elsewhere, but the Pirates will be checking the market for shortstop help in case Barmes doesn't return.
Who they can trade if necessary
Most of Pittsburgh's tradable commodities come from down on the farm. While the Pirates are unlikely to deal any of the big-named prospects -- don't expect Polanco or Jameson Taillon to be dealt -- there is some depth, particularly in terms of big league-ready arms. Brandon Cumpton was impressive in 30 2/3 total innings with the Bucs and looks ready for a rotation shot on a team that has an opening (which the Pirates might have if Burnett doesn't return and they don't bring in a new arm).
Stolmy Pimentel helped out in the big league 'pen down the stretch, but he also started effectively across two levels of the Minors in 2013. He'll be just 24 for all of next season and, like Cumpton, could get an opportunity as a starter with the right team. A healthy Phil Irwin gives the club even more starting pitching depth.
The Bucs have always been good at putting together a bullpen, and they recently added an interesting piece in Miles Mikolas. They could be willing to part with any number of their relievers -- save perhaps Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon -- in the right deal, if they have confidence that they could find replacements for those who made valuable contributions in 2013.
The Pirates have six players in MLB.com's current Top 100 Prospects list: Taillon, Polanco, shortstop Alen Hanson, outfielder Austin Meadows, right-hander Luis Heredia and right-hander Tyler Glasnow. Pittsburgh's Top 10 is rounded out by outfielder Josh Bell, catcher Reese McGuire, right-hander Nick Kingham and outfielder Barrett Barnes.
Rule 5 Draft
The Pirates are full at 40 men on their roster, so as of right now, they would not be able to make a selection in the Major League phase of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. That doesn't mean they can't make room, should they see a player worthy of selection, before the Draft takes place. Pittsburgh didn't participate in the Major League phase in 2012, but it did make picks in each of the previous three Rule 5 Drafts, taking position players who didn't stick in each case. The most recent Rule 5 pick who made any real kind of big league contribution to the Bucs was lefty Donnie Veal, taken in '08.
Big contracts they might unload
Lefty Wandy Rodriguez currently has the highest salary on the Pirates ($13 million, though the Astros are picking up a part of it), but given his injury status, it's unlikely he'd currently carry much trade value on the open market. Russell Martin will make $8.5 million in 2014, but he's not going anywhere. No one else on the roster, especially with Burnett not in the fold, has an albatross-looking contract Pittsburgh will be looking to dump any time soon.
The Pirates will never be among the Major League leaders in total payroll, but it looks like they might be willing to move up the charts for the right players. In 2013, their total payroll was $75 million, but they were allowed to go over budget to bring on Byrd, Morneau and catcher John Buck. Two significant arbitration cases -- Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez -- could bump it a good amount, but there have been signs that the Bucs will be able to increase payroll to keep things going in the right direction in Pittsburgh.