CLEVELAND -- General manager Neal Huntington summarized the temperature of the trading pool concisely Sunday afternoon.
"It's a pretty obvious trade market right now," he said. "It's really nonexistent.
"The second wild card in each league has made that many more teams actually remain engaged, and then what St. Louis and Tampa did a year go has made that many more teams philosophically remain engaged."
The Pirates have discussed trades with teams for six weeks, manager Clint Hurdle said, but without success.
"There's no traction anywhere," Hurdle said. "That extra wild card spot actually has added time for everybody with each passing week."
Sunday's game against the Cleveland Indians was the Pirates' 65th of the season, enough time, Hurdle said, to assess strengths and weaknesses.
"I think every team, once they get into that 50-game mark, you're a third of the season in almost, you start looking more realistically about who you are, what you are, where your needs might be, what your surplus might be and then you look for matches," he said.
The Pirates, presumably in search of a hitter who could help an offense that ranked last in runs and on-base percentage among National League teams entering Sunday, no longer appear to have the pitching depth to offer in return. Jeff Karstens will likely make two more rehabilitation starts before rejoining the rotation, and Charlie Morton is out for the season due to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow.
Many clubs are looking for the same thing, Hurdle said, and circumstances force teams to approach trading differently.
"We've been told by some clubs that they're going to hold on as long as they can to sell tickets and try to keep their fans engaged, so that may take an obvious seller off the market," Huntington said.
Teams generally self-evaluate to determine their realistic chances at contention, Hurdle said, but the new wild-card rules changed the equation.
"I think [the new wild-card rules] pushes it back because teams are taking a longer look to see if they're buyers or sellers," Hurdle said.
Huntington said he felt comfortable using Class AAA Indianapolis left-handers Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke as a spot starter but would prefer to bring them up when they have a chance to earn a prolonged stay in the rotation. Owens is 5-2 with a 2.34 ERA for Indianapolis in 13 starts this season.
"Rudy's really throwing the ball well," Huntington said. "He's commanding both halves, he's using his off-speed pitches well. Jeff continues to just give solid outing after solid outing down there."
Locke is 5-3 with a 3.27 ERA this season. He made an appearance with the Pirates last year and joined the roster briefly this season, but did not pitch.
Josh Bell, the Pirates' second-round draft pick in 2011, is rehabilitating in Bradenton, Fla., after having surgery in April to repair the meniscus in his left knee. He has started more baseball activities, Huntington said, but is not running the bases. ... Rule 5 draft pick Gustavo Nunez had the pins removed from his surgically repaired ankle because they became an irritant, Huntington said. That process delayed his rehab, and he has started light running.pirates
First Published June 18, 2012 12:00 AM