Pirates shop for good fits at winter meetings

Starting pitchers top list; Hanrahan could be trade bait

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pirates preempted the bevy of free-agent signings sure to occur this week at Major League Baseball's winter meetings by signing free-agent catcher Russell Martin.

That signing, general manager Neal Huntington said, will not affect the way the Pirates approach the meetings, which represent an opportunity for representatives of all 30 clubs to discuss trades and for player agents to meet with front-office personnel.

The Pirates likely will try to make progress toward finding another starting pitcher at the gathering, being held over the next four days at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center,

"Sometimes, there's an artificial sense of urgency that comes with the winter meetings," Huntington said. "When a deal is ready to be made, you make it."

The Pirates did not tender a contract to Jeff Karstens, who was eligible for salary arbitration, on Friday, and Charlie Morton will not return until at least June after having Tommy John elbow surgery. That leaves A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald in the starting rotation.

The Pirates have said Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke will compete for a rotation spot at spring training.

The Pirates hold a valuable chip that may help them acquire a starter in a trade. Joel Hanrahan, who is eligible for arbitration for the final time, will receive a raise from his $4.1 million salary in 2012 to somewhere in the $6 million or $7 million range.

Hanrahan will become a free agent after the 2013 season. The new collective bargaining agreement stipulates that for teams to receive draft pick compensation for losing a free agent, they must extend a qualifying offer of roughly $13 million, a price the Pirates probably won't pay for a closer.

The CBA also mandates that a player needs to stay with one club all season for that club to receive draft pick compensation, meaning if the Pirates trade Hanrahan at mid-season, the team that acquires him can't receive a compensatory draft pick if Hanrahan departs via free agency after the 2013 season.

Hanrahan's escalating salary, combined with the new CBA rules, mean his value may have reached its apex. Reports have said the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that drafted Hanrahan in 2000, are interested in him.

Huntington said the Pirates' plans for the meetings are to "continue to gather information, see if there's matches to be made with clubs, if there's deals to be made with free agents."

The Pirates also might search for relief pitching, especially after trading Chris Resop Friday to the Oakland A's. Aside from Hanrahan, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Chris Leroux, the rest of the Pirates' in-house relievers are inexperienced.

Unlike a year ago, the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players came before the winter meetings, meaning the class of free agents available has expanded. Starters Jair Jurrjens (Atlanta), Mike Pelfrey (New York Mets) and John Lannan (Washington), all of whom were not given a contract by their former teams, will garner attention from teams in need of starting pitching.

On Thursday, teams participate in the Rule 5 draft, which allows clubs to choose players from other organizations who are not on 40-man rosters. Teams that select a player in the Rule 5 draft must keep that player on their active major league roster all season or return him to his original club, though the teams can agree to a trade that would allow the acquiring club to send the player to the minors.

A year ago at the winter meetings, the Pirates signed pitcher Erik Bedard and outfielder Nate McLouth. They also traded for infielder Yamaico Navarro and drafted infielder Gustavo Nunez in the Rule 5 draft.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter: @BrinkPG.


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