Pirates notebook: Options at first base dwindling by the day

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The first-base market shifted Wednesday when the Seattle Mariners plucked two from the pool, signing Corey Hart and acquiring Logan Morrison in a trade with Miami.

The Pirates, among several teams looking for a first baseman, continued to search for a platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez or an overall upgrade, but general manager Neal Huntington did not seem overly concerned the market is shrinking.

"It's still a strong [market]. Obviously Seattle's moves today ... take a couple of guys off the market. It may put one back on," said Huntington, referring to Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit 20 home runs last year. "We don't know exactly what their thought process is, but, in our minds, there's still some strength to it.

"If we end up with Gaby Sanchez, I think we've got comfort that some others don't. We'll continue to look to see if there's something that makes us better."

Huntington also indicated the club would not be turned off by a three-year deal if the right situation came up, though he was not referring to anyone specific.

Tampa Bay's James Loney -- who has drawn interest from the Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers -- reportedly seeks a three-year deal in the $27-30 million range.

"The contract length isn't the deterrent. It's the quality of the deal, the quality of the player, the quality of the person and the match," Huntington said. "We haven't not gone three years [for a contract] in the past because we've been afraid of three years. We've not gone three years in the past because we haven't found the right guy to go three years with."

Trade possibilities in the market still exist in Adam Lind (Toronto), Mitch Moreland (Texas Rangers), Ike Davis (New York Mets) and others.

Manager Clint Hurdle said there is no internal alarm over the quickly-shrinking options.

"The market is what it is. We can play to it at the level we can play to it. And there are certain things we can't play to, so we get it," Hurdle said. "We don't get confused by it. We don't get angry about it. We find different ways to get it done, as do many other teams within our industry.

"We're not desperate. We have a plan. We'll stick with it. Is there another partner that we could creatively make a trade with that could bring in a first baseman? There are still a couple guys or two on the free-agent market that we've had discussions about."

Rule 5 draft

Huntington said he did not expect to select anyone in the Rule 5 draft today, nor was he expecting to lose a player.

"We hear rumblings of a guy or two here and there," Huntington said. "When I was farm director for the [Cleveland] Indians, we were supposed to lose six and we lost one, so ... the rumor mill flies at this time of year. We'll sit and listen. If our man gets called, we'll wish that guy all the luck in the world and, if he comes back to us, we'll welcome him back with open arms."

Instant-replay discussions

The league managers and general managers met for two hours to discuss instant replay and home-plate collisions.

MLB executive Joe Torre said two unions need to sign off on the instant-replay plan, without that, nothing is set in stone.

"We've played this game a long time without doing something more," Torre said. "To me, it's a matter of what makes sense for the game. The game is the most important thing. I know we have technology. We can't ignore it. ... We certainly don't want to affect the rhythm of the game."

Reclamation projects

Despite signing Edinson Volquez, the Pirates will continue to seek pitchers who can have bounce-back years, Huntington said.

The club turned Francisco Liriano into MLB's Comeback Player of the Year in 2013 and have had success finding those gems.

"To identify the player that you think has the chance? Not all that challenging. To help that player overcome the boundaries that have limited his success in the prior years? That's the challenging part," Huntington said. "But we believe in our pitching coaches. And we'll continue to look for that type of guy. Especially as this market continues to do what it's doing, we're going to have to continue to work to find guys that maybe have bounce-back years in Pittsburgh."

The Pirates have checked in on former Mets pitcher Johan Santana, according to a source, though at least eight other teams are reported to have interest in the two-time Cy Young winner who has missed two of the past three seasons with major shoulder problems.

Bill Brink contributed to this report. Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez.

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