They are, without question, the burning questions of the Pirates' still-sleepy offseason:
Will they acquire that coveted left-handed power bat?
And might it be Atlanta Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche?
General manager Dave Littlefield never discusses specifics of potential personnel moves, but he did say yesterday at PNC Park that, while the field for such hitters has dwindled in free agency, the trade field -- and the Pirates' targets -- are about the same as they have been all winter.
"The trade talks haven't changed dramatically," Littlefield said. "We continue to look at some of the options we were looking at in November."
LaRoche is one of the players the Pirates have been discussing that long. A deal came close to fruition Dec. 6, but Atlanta rejected an offer of closer Mike Gonzalez. The Pirates do not have players to suit the Braves' other needs, though it is thought that the Braves would accept a starter for LaRoche.
Might Littlefield give up one of his four young starters -- Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm or Tom Gorzelanny -- to acquire that bat?
"Depends on who the bat is. And who the pitcher is," he said. "I would say, in general, I don't think it's likely we would trade one of the four young starters. However, I think the proper thing to do professionally is to look at everything. No one's untouchable."
Littlefield did not rule out that the Pirates could enter next season without the bat.
"It's a possibility. As we've stated, we'd like to get a bat, but there's varying degrees of what level that bat is and what you can obtain. Some, in your eyes, might be our best scenario. Others might not be as good. But one thing you've always got to consider -- and it's something that seems to not be considered as much by some -- is that, when you trade, you're giving up a piece. Can we shore up the one area we're going to lose to the point we gain overall through the bat? Could you go for a lesser bat and keep the pitching? Those are things that are always debated and discussed."
As for the Pirates' other declared need, a right-handed starter, Littlefield downplayed the chance of acquiring one from another team.
"Trading for starting pitching is hard to do," he said. "There are only a couple of options."
He did not rule out free agency, but he stressed the importance of "good value," an apparent sign that the high-priced lot is out.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .