Coonelly cites importance of supporting young core of players
December 6, 2010 5:00 AM
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Free agent Derrek Lee could fit the Pirates' first base mold. He has not been connected to the Pirates.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The most obvious question as the Pirates arrive at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings, which begin today at the Walt Disney Swan hotel, is this: Which players might they acquire?
Their shopping list, evident for several weeks now, includes a first baseman/right fielder, a shortstop capable of supplanting Ronny Cedeno, a starting pitcher or two, and bullpen help for Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. Many names remain in free agency and the well of potential trades is infinite.
But perhaps an equally relevant question is this: Why add now?
The Pirates' everyday lineup in 2011 will be comprised of three players coming off their rookie seasons -- Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez -- and another coming off his first full season in the majors, Andrew McCutchen. James McDonald and Charlie Morton, too, would be inexperienced in the rotation.
Some teams in this position would hold off significant spending or significant trades until the core matures. But the consistent stance of team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington from the day the Pirates lost their 105th game Oct. 3 in Miami has been that their pursuit of experienced -- possibly expensive -- talent this offseason will be aggressive, but they will not deviate from the long-term focus.
"We feel it's important to provide this young group of players weapons that will help them experience success in 2011," Coonelly said. "More help is coming quickly through the much improved minor league system, but there are needs that we're trying to address now to enable us to win in 2011. If we can address these needs without giving up prospects who we believe will be a part of our long-term success and without impeding our ability to lock up the young players who we are developing to long-term agreements, we need to do that."
That means, in a nutshell, using money to get that talent, but not so much money that McCutchen or another of the core players could not be offered a multiyear extension, now or down the road.
"We are targeting players on the market who will address these needs without jeopardizing our longer-term goals," Coonelly said. "We have the financial resources available to address these needs, and we are looking forward to adding more talent to the improving young talent that has joined the roster over the past two years."
A couple of the Pirates' pricier targets, pitcher Jorge De La Rosa and first baseman/outfielder Lance Berkman, are off the free-agency board.
Those remaining who most likely would fit the team's first base mold include Derrek Lee, Nick Johnson and Carlos Pena, though none has been connected to the Pirates yet. For right field, the broader scope includes Jeff Francouer, Jack Cust, Matt Diaz and a familiar face in Xavier Nady. The latter can play first or right.
The preference for the first/baseman/right fielder is for right-handed power. Huntington reminded that the Pirates might have two other internal options.
"We are comfortable with Steve Pearce filling a role on the major league club," Huntington said. "We continue to be open to Lastings Milledge returning, too, but we are also exploring other potential fits."
Pearce is expected to be fully recovered from knee surgery by spring. Milledge was non-tendered Thursday night but could be re-signed as a free agent.
The shortstop field is thin in free agency, but the Pirates already have engaged the Minnesota Twins in trade talks regarding J.J. Hardy, as well as the Tampa Bay Rays regarding Jason Bartlett.
Starting pitching is even thinner in free agency, with a ravenous field of suitors sifting through what's left of the game's most precious commodity. The Pirates are in serious pursuit of Scott Olsen, perhaps to the point of being a favorite, and they are entertaining other possibilities. Their pursuit of former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, making a comeback from shoulder surgery, has gotten cold in recent days, though.
Adding a starting pitcher through a trade would be expensive in terms of talent.
At least one player is virtually certain to be added at the Winter Meetings, as the Pirates have the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft. A strong possibility for that is right-hander Aneury Rodriguez, a 22-year-old Class AAA starter in the ultra-deep Tampa Bay system who had a 3.80 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 114 innings.
The 40-man roster has four openings, so there is plenty of room.