Pirates notebook: Hunt for upgrade at first base shifts into higher gear

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Pirates are pursuing an upgrade at first base, general manager Neal Huntington said Monday in a brief respite from his first day of dealings at the winter meetings.

Huntington left open two possibilities: finding a platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez or finding an everyday player via trade or free-agent signing.

The team was linked to several first basemen throughout the course of the day with reports they were in contact with Toronto’s Adam Lind and Miami’s Logan Morrison, but exactly what direction it takes still is playing out.

“It’s one of the spots we feel like we can help provide a little bit more offense,” said Huntington. “As we look at the market, we’re not desperately seeking a left-handed hitter, we’re not desperately seeking a first baseman. We’re looking for someone we think makes us better than what we have in-house right now for the right acquisition cost.”

Sanchez had strong numbers against left-handers last season with an .987 OPS and .333 batting average by splitting starts with Garrett Jones, who signed with Miami. Sanchez is limited against right-handed pitchers, producing just a .619 OPS this season and a .204 average.

“You take a recent look at Gaby’s success. Not very good in the last couple years,” said Huntington. “This past year, we threw him in some tough situations as we struggled to get some production. Two years ago, he just had a bad year. Four years ago now, pretty solid against right-handed pitching, really good against left.”

Fox Sports first reported the Pirates talks with Morrison and Lind. Morrison has hit .251 against right-handers in his career with a .786 OPS and .446 slugging percentage. Lind hit .309 average with a .929 OPS against right-handers last season.

Huntington reiterated the club will explore multiple other upgrades where they make sense — from middle infield to starting pitching and bullpen help, but said they will likely stay in-house in right field.

“The outfield market is very shallow, so we’re leaning toward maybe staying in-house with that one,” he said . “But still open to some trades and see if there might be a trade there.”

Barmes still a possibility

The Pirates, who might look to supplement Jordy Mercer with a defensive-minded shortstop, have talked with free agent Clint Barmes this winter, according to a source.

Barmes played the past two seasons for the Pirates on a two-year, $10.5 million contract. He will be 35 by opening day and hit .211 with a .249 on-base percentage last season. He walked 14 times in 330 plate appearances and had a .309 slugging percentage.

Reds had to have Jay Bell

New Reds manager Bryan Price hired former Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell last month as his bench coach and called him his “have-to-have” guy.

The two worked together with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’ve really got to have a strong right hand, and Jay fits the bill there,” Price said. “He’s a terrific guy — great baseball man, great communicator.”

Price said he viewed Bell as having the perfect personality for players to go to for issues that might not reach the manager’s office. “I feel he’s a strong communicator, I don’t think that as a manager you can live in the clubhouse. I do think that quite often you do find that players sometimes prefer to go to an assistant coach.

“And Jay is that guy. You can talk with Jay and communicate. He’s a very positive guy. And I think that part of the relationship is significant.”

A durable starter?

A report Monday by ESPN identified multiple suitors for veteran pitcher Bronson Arroyo, including the Pirates.

The Reds did not extend a qualifying offer to Arroyo last month, after he went 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA and wrapped up the final year of a two-year, $23.5 million contract extension.

Arroyo, 36, has been remarkably consistent the past several seasons and has started fewer than 32 games once in his 11-year career.

“We hate to lose him, I’ll tell you that,” said Price. “He’ll be at 37 next year, probably pretty close to that last multiyear contract. It’s a battle because all you do is keep performing. Your performance would suggest a two- or three-year commitment at fair-market value. He probably isn’t going to get that in Cincinnati.”

Price said Arroyo’s durability stems from several things.

“He’s loose and sinewy. He’s our hardest worker. Never takes a day off. He just loves it,” said Price. “A funny thing about this game, a guy like Bronson, he appreciates the opportunity. You wish everyone did.”

Staff writer Bill Brink contributed. Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez.

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