Hot Stove: Tracy's spirit a fit for the season

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Jim Tracy is starting to smile again. And laugh a little. And even, on occasion, to think about baseball.

But none of that has come without some significant effort since Nov. 30, when his father, Jim Tracy Sr., died after a two-year bout with prostate cancer.

As the Pirates' manager put it, "I lost my hero that day."

More time will bring more healing, of course. And it might not hurt that the annual turning of the calendar that takes place tonight brings a universal swelling of happiness, hope and optimism.

Then again, anyone who has met Tracy is aware that he seldom is lacking in such sentiments. Which might explain why he sounded so much like his usual self in an interview Thursday.

Here are his thoughts...

On the 2007 Pirates: "We're not starting over. That's the important thing. We finished with a winning second half for the first time since 1992, and we want to carry it over. And I'll tell you what: I feel really, really good about it."

On the goal: "I understand there are people who want to see us win 82. I appreciate that. It's been 14 years. But that's not the goal here. That's not what I signed up for. This group has a chance to be pretty good for the next several years. Let's get pretty good first, then go from there."

On the losing streak: "This group has been together 162 games, not 14 years. Let's remember that."

On the team's reluctance to trade a starting pitcher for that coveted left-handed bat: "For us to fill a void and create a hole in the rotation ... you just can't do that. Also, you have to look around baseball at what people are paying -- maybe overpaying -- for pitching right now. And we're going to give that up? Can't do that."

On that left-handed bat: "I've thought about it. I'm not going to lie. We had 55 one-run games last season, most of any team in Major League Baseball. How much difference would one bat have made for us, with our pitching?"

On keeping the roster at status quo: "We do need a couple pieces, OK? Now, whether we're able to get them or not, we're not going to mortgage the organization to say, 'Hey, we did it!' That's not right. But, if you get one or two that make sense with where you're going collectively, that's different."

On the leftover money in payroll: "Do you just spend it because it's there to spend? If you don't like the situation, just put it in your pocket. I think it sends a good message, that we're dedicated to the players we have, that we're only going to bring someone in if it makes sense within this group."

On whether he would be able to cobble a fifth starter out of Shawn Chacon, Shane Youman or Marty McLeary: "Absolutely. And I'll tell you one thing: Youman showed me something. I'm very impressed with this kid."

On his favorite winter activity living in Pittsburgh: "I've become a real hockey fan after watching these Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They're amazing athletes."

Buried treasure

It is official: The Pirates will have no minicamp. The annual January gathering of pitchers in Bradenton, Fla., will be replaced by a more spread-out version in which a few pitchers report to PNC Park weekly throughout the month for checkups. Schedules will be built around their promotional appearances for Winter Caravan or PirateFest.

The Pirates remain intensely interested in trading for Atlanta first baseman Adam LaRoche, but they continue to have no answer for the Braves' wish for a leadoff-hitting type in addition to closer Mike Gonzalez. The Pirates' only player in that mold is center fielder Chris Duffy, but they believe they have no replacement if he is dealt.

Less than 24 hours before the Baltimore Orioles agreed to terms on a three-year, $20 million deal with free-agent outfielder/first baseman Aubrey Huff yesterday, an industry source was describing the Pirates as "making a real run" at him. But that was downplayed by a team official. It remains unknown if any formal offer was made.

The Pirates' attention could swing back to Trot Nixon, another free agent with whom they have made contact.

A return for Craig Wilson? Word in baseball circles is that he would welcome coming back to the Pirates, even though they did not part on the warmest terms when he was traded to the Yankees in July. No contact has been made between the Pirates and Wilson, and Wilson's being right-handed probably will prevent that from happening. But only the Yankees and Orioles are known to have expressed serious interest in Wilson to date, and he is keeping all options open.

Although reliever Salomon Torres has made 64 major-league starts, the Pirates have no plan to try him in that role. They consider him too valuable where he is. For the record, Torres' career ERA is 5.16 as a starter, 3.53 in relief.

No pitcher in the system has had a better winter than Juan Perez, a waiver-wire pickup in August. In 23 relief appearances for Cibao in the Dominican League, he has a 1.79 ERA and has limited opponents to a .119 batting average.

Forty-six days until pitchers and catchers report.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com


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