The Pirates relievers stayed busy last season.
They'll get a chance to do so again this season.
The bullpen, including anchor Joel Hanrahan, will return mostly intact for the 2012 season in a departure from general manager Neal Huntington's approach in recent years.
Huntington tendered contracts to Hanrahan, Chris Resop and Evan Meek, and Daniel McCutchen, Tony Watson, Daniel Moskos and Chris Leroux will return was well. Jason Grilli, who joined the unit in the middle of 2011, agreed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract before the non-tender deadline.
"I think it says that [Huntington] likes what we did last year," Hanrahan said. "He felt like we were pretty solid for him all year."
Huntington has overhauled the bullpen the past two seasons.
The 2010 bullpen did not feature Jesse Chavez, Matt Capps, John Grabow or Sean Burnett, who were among the leaders in appearances in 2009. Last season's bullpen lacked Javier Lopez, D.J. Carrasco, Octavio Dotel and Brendan Donnelly, who carried much of the load in the first half of 2010.
The Pirates traded Jose Veras, who led the team with 79 appearances in 2011, for corner infielder Casey McGehee earlier this month, but the rest, at this point, will return.
Hanrahan, who saved 40 games and 26 in a row in 2011, avoided arbitration before last season by signing a one-year contract worth $1.4 million before the deadline. Those 40 saves will earn him a sizable raise in '12.
"I've talked with my agents about what we want to do and what our strategy is, I guess," Hanrahan said. "I don't think they've had any communication with the Pirates. Last year we didn't talk to them until after the new year anyway and we don't expect anything to happen before then either."
Hanrahan said he does not expect the Pirates to offer a multiyear contract.
"That's something that I think they have to come to us with first," he said. "If that was the case, both sides give things up in a multiyear deal. That's something that we obviously discussed but it's something that hasn't been brought up."
The possibility exists that the Pirates could trade Hanrahan, a valuable commodity, if they are out of contention before the trade deadline and a contender in need of a closer offers a strong deal.
Hanrahan has spent the offseason working out with his friend LaTroy Hawkins. Tracking the Pirates' offseason moves, he noticed an emphasis on defense.
"[Clint] Barmes is a great defender," Hanrahan said. "I've played against him for a couple years now, I think he's a good hitter. I've talked with some people who have had [Rod] Barajas as a catcher and [they] said he really takes catching personally. His pride is making the pitching staff better. That's what you ask for in a catcher."
Hanrahan will lead a bullpen that took the mound often in 2011, partly due to the second-half ineffectiveness of the starting rotation. The bullpen pitched 526 innings in 2011, the highest amount in the majors except for the Baltimore Orioles.
They might have another addition. The signing of starter Erik Bedard formed a projected rotation of Bedard, Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton and James McDonald, eliminating a spot for Brad Lincoln. Lincoln might make spot starts if Morton has not recovered from offseason hip surgery in time for the season but said he would consider moving to the bullpen.
"We haven't shut the door yet on a bullpen role," Lincoln said. "That would still take some work, maybe if I had to spend some time in Triple-A to get some coming out of the bullpen situations. I just want to be a part of this and be up here."
Lincoln has an option remaining, so starting in the minors is a possibility.
He said he prefers to start, and his numbers reflect that preference. He had a 4.29 ERA in eight starts in 2011, striking out 24 and walking 14. In 52/3 innings as a reliever, he had a 7.94 ERA and 1.77 WHIP. He said he'll use the Bedard signing as motivation.
"It drives me a little bit more to know that, hey, if I want to be a part of this, I've got to work twice as hard to get there," he said. "That's what I want to do. I want to be a part of something good that's coming through Pittsburgh."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.