RF, 1B, SS head list of Pirates' needs


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Soon, the Pirates will find out what their 94 wins in 2013 mean for their moves off the field.

"We may be received more receptively in the free-agent market because I think we demonstrated this year that we can be a competitive team, we can be a winning team," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said.

Free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, when teams are free to negotiate with and sign any player. The Pirates have some areas in need of reinforcement, and, while the team won't engineer a roster overhaul in the free-agent market, they will look there for help.

"I think players that look at the Pittsburgh Pirates now will look at us differently," Coonelly said. "Our reception may be a little bit different, but our approach and focus won't change."

The positions that plagued the Pirates over the season -- first base and right field -- will be an issue this winter. Their first basemen ranked 22nd in Major League Baseball in on-base plus slugging percentage this season, prompting the Pirates to acquire Justin Morneau in a late season trade. Their right fielders ranked 21st in OPS, including the .843 OPS Marlon Byrd posted after the Pirates traded for him.

Morneau and Byrd are free agents. The Pirates have Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez as first-base options, and both are eligible for arbitration. Travis Snider, also arbitration-eligible, and Jose Tabata, who is under contract, represent the options in right field.

Even if free-agent starter A.J. Burnett decides to return to the Pirates, they might need help in the starting rotation. In addition to Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton, they have Wandy Rodriguez, who is expected to exercise his $13 million player option for 2014. Rodriguez, though, missed the final four months of the season, including two aborted rehabilitation attempts, with a flexor strain in his left elbow.

The Pirates also have Jeff Locke, who made the All-Star team before fading in the second half, and top prospect Jameson Taillon, who might be ready to make his debut at some point next year.

Given the uncertainty in the rotation, they will probably look at acquiring a starting pitcher.

They might opt to search for a shortstop rather than re-sign free agent Clint Barmes, who had a .249 on-base percentage this season, but the free-agent shortstop market is shallow. Jordy Mercer is an option.

The Pirates have $41.75 million committed to six players in 2014. The Houston Astros will contribute $5.5 million toward Rodriguez's salary. Their payroll was roughly $80 million in 2013, $66 million of which the Pirates were responsible for.

Here are available players that the Pirates might target:

First base

Paul Konerko

Age opening day 2014: 38.

2013 stats: .244/.313/.355, 12 home runs in 520 plate appearances, 126 games.

2013 salary: $13.5 million, final year of three-year, $37.5 million contract.

The skinny: Regressed this year after an age-defying 2012. He had his lowest average since 2008 and fewest home runs since 1998. Konerko's former team, the Chicago White Sox, just signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract and has Adam Dunn under contract. The Pirates might not want to take a risk on a 38-year-old who had back issues in 2013, and Konerko, who has played for the White Sox since 1999, might not want to switch teams this late in his career.

James Loney

Age opening day 2014: 29.

2013 stats: .299/.348/.430, 13 home runs, 598 plate appearances in 158 games.

2013 salary: $2 million, one-year deal.

The skinny: Average and on-base percentage rebounded with Tampa Bay in 2013. He also had 33 doubles, the most since his 41 in 2010. Loney's age, resurgent offense and steady defense make him a candidate for a multiyear contract, which might take him out of the Pirates' range. He could provide some stability for the next few years at first base if the Pirates signed him.

Kendrys Morales

Age opening day 2014: 30.

2013 stats: .277/.336/.449, 23 home runs, 657 plate appearances in 156 games.

2013 salary: $5.25 million in his final year of arbitration.

The skinny: Power remained even with the move to the Seattle Mariners from the Los Angeles Angels. He played only 31 games at first base in 2013, spending most of his time as the designated hitter. He will be a free agent for the first time, and agent Scott Boras will look for Morales' first big payday.

Right field

Corey Hart

Age opening day 2014: 32.

2012 stats*: .270/.334/.507, 30 home runs, 622 plate appearances in 149 games.

2013 salary: $10 million, final year of three-year, $26.5 million contract.

The skinny: A right knee injury kept Hart out at the start of the season, and surgery on his left knee in July forced him to miss the whole year. Hart already had spent the majority of the 2012 season at first base rather than right field with Milwaukee. He would represent a large risk given the state of his knees, but a team could likely sign him to an inexpensive deal filled with incentives. The Pirates have gone this route before, signing or trading for players coming off down years or injuries who they believe are candidates for improvement.

Michael Morse

Age opening day 2014: 32.

2013 stats: .215/.270/.381, 13 home runs, 337 plate appearances in 88 games.

2013 salary: $6.75 million, final year of two-year, $10.5 million contract.

The skinny: A strong 2011 season earned him a two-year contract, but he struggled in the second year after trades sent him from the Washington Nationals to the Mariners and then the Baltimore Orioles. Quadriceps and wrist injuries hampered Morse in 2013. The quad issue kept him out for a month and the wrist injury required offseason surgery. Morse represents another risk because of his health, but the Pirates might see an opportunity to buy low.

Jason Kubel

Age opening day 2014: 31.

2013 stats: .216/.293/.317, 5 home runs, 290 plate appearances in 97 games.

2013 salary: $7.5 million, second year of a two-year, $16 million contract.

The skinny: The Indians hold a $7.5 million mutual option for 2014 with a $1 million buyout, but it is unlikely they will exercise their portion of it after the way he played this season. Kubel is one year removed from hitting 30 home runs with a .327 on-base percentage in 141 games. He might come at a discount.

Starting pitcher

Josh Johnson, RHP

Age opening day 2014: 30

2013 stats: 2-8, 6.20 ERA in 811/3 innings, 16 starts.

2013 salary: $13.75 million, final year of four-year, $39 million contract.

The skinny: Spent time on the Toronto Blue Jays' disabled list twice in 2013, once for triceps inflammation and once for a forearm strain. Three years have passed since his stellar 2010 season, when Johnson led the league in ERA and finished fifth in Cy Young voting. He has been effective when healthy, posting a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts in 2012, and while he represents a risk, the Pirates could see him as a bounce-back candidate they can sign to an inexpensive contract.

Dan Haren, RHP

Age opening day 2014: 33.

2013 stats: 10-14, 4.67 ERA in 31 games, 30 starts, 1692/3 innings.

2013 salary: $13 million, one-year contract.

The skinny: Picture of durability and consistency, starting 30 games every season since 2005 and allowing few walks. He went on the DL this season, but reports in The Washington Post indicated his poor performance for the Nationals, not an acute injury, had more to do with his time there. Haren, who usually has pitched better in the first half than the second, lowered his ERA by two runs in the second half of 2013. He struggled with the home run in the first half (19), but allowed nine in the second half. Secondary statistics indicate Haren was unlucky, too. The Pirates pay attention to such things when identifying potential acquisitions and might envision redemption.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP

Age opening day 2014: 30.

2013 stats: 13-9, 3.30 ERA in 32 starts, 1822/3 innings

2013 salary: $5.75 million (Indians exercised club option as part of four-year, $10 million contract with options for 2013-14).

The skinny: Has an $8 million club option for 2014 with a $1 million buyout, but his contract, signed with the Colorado Rockies in 2009, grants him the right to void the option after he was traded to Cleveland in 2011. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that he likely will void the option and test free agency. After two tough years with an ERA north of 4.50, Jimenez reduced his walks and homers this past season and became less hittable. He might cost more in years and dollars, than other free agents, possibly pricing him out of the Pirates' market.

Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta

Age opening day 2014: 31.

2013 stats: .303/.358/.457, 11 home runs in 448 plate appearances, 107 games.

2013 salary: $6 million (club option, exercised after two-year, $11.25 million contract expired).

The skinny: Served a 50-game suspension for alleged involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, the center of an MLB investigation. When on the field for Detroit, he played well. The suspension might give some teams pause and dilute the number of suitors for the otherwise desirable shortstop, but enough teams will want him that the Pirates might not have a shot.

Stephen Drew

Age opening day 2014: 31.

2013 stats: .253/.333/.443, 13 home runs, 501 plate appearances in 124 games.

2013 salary: $9.5 million, one-year contract.

The skinny: Played a full season with Boston -- with one trip to the disabled list -- for the first time since 2010 after a gruesome ankle injury stole chunks of his 2011-12 seasons. Drew would be a good fit, but agent Scott Boras might seek more years on the contract than the Pirates want to offer.

Brendan Ryan

Age opening day 2014: 32.

2013 stats: .197/.255/.273, 4 home runs, 349 plate appearances in 104 games.

2013 salary: $3.25 million in his final year of arbitration,

The skinny: Would mirror the Barmes route --prioritizing defense up the middle. Ryan's defense regressed from 2012, when he was the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but is still above average. The Pirates would need to upgrade their lineup in other areas to stash Ryan, who finished the past season with the New York Yankees, in the eighth spot, but he wouldn't cost much.

*-Hart missed all of 2013 due to injury


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