Pirates winter meetings: GM Huntington hopes portfolio will pay off
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DALLAS -- These winter meetings featured big spending on premier players. But rather than devote the Pirates assets to one commodity, general manager Neal Huntington took a diversified approach.
"We could have invested everything in one big blue-chip stock or we could have invested in a portfolio," he said Thursday before the conclusion of the meetings at the Hilton Anatole. "We decided to take the portfolio approach."
The Pirates left the meetings with Erik Bedard, a left-handed starter, and Nate McLouth, who will provide depth in the outfield. They also added infielder Yamaico Navarro, acquired in a trade Wednesday from the Kansas City Royals, and shortstop Gustavo Nunez, whom they selected from the Detroit Tigers organization with the eighth pick of the Rule 5 draft. Top it off with catcher Jose Morales, signed to a minor league contract Wednesday, and the Pirates obtained five players filling different organizational needs.
The Pirates left Dallas without acquiring an impact player. Bedard can be elite but has a long history of injuries, and the combined 2011 batting average of McLouth, Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes -- signed earlier this offseason -- was .236. The manner in which they pursued and acquired players, Huntington said, fit their philosophy.
"We wanted to fill the holes that we had, add depth to the organization, and we've got some higher investments in that portfolio and we've got some smaller investments in that portfolio," Huntington said. "But we believe that was the best way for us to approach the offseason."
The Pirates spent $20.75 million -- $15.25 million for 2012 -- on Bedard, McLouth, Barajas and Barmes. They have roughly $28 million committed to the 2012 payroll, and still have eight players eligible for arbitration whose salaries have not been determined. Those include Joel Hanrahan, who will earn a big raise this year, and starters Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens. The Pirates must decide whether or not to tender contracts to those eight players by midnight Monday.
"We've still got some flexibility," Huntington said, regarding additional offseason moves.
Part of that flexibility resulted from the release of starter Ross Ohlendorf, who missed much of the 2010 and '11 seasons because of shoulder strains. When Ohlendorf did return last season, he went 1-3 with an 8.15 ERA and his pitches lost velocity and effectiveness. He won an arbitration case before last season and was awarded a $2,025,000 salary. He was eligible for arbitration again this season, and under arbitration rules he could not earn less than 80 percent, or about $1.62 million, of what he earned the previous year.
"Health probably is the biggest challenge," Huntington said. "There's a good chance Ross Ohlendorf goes out and shows us this was a bad decision. But we wanted to reallocate the money elsewhere."
While the Pirates entered the meetings with holes, Huntington said early in the week that he wasn't desperate to do anything.
"We'll continue to look to find moves that make us better, but we feel like we've taken a big step forward, whether it's the bigger moves or even the smaller moves."
Nunez, 23, has not appeared in the majors. The Dominican Republic native debuted with the Tigers organization in 2007 and hit .276 in 96 games split between Class A and Class AA last season.
"He's the classic defensive profile for a young shortstop," Huntington said. "The ability to field, the ability to throw, the ability to run."
The Pirates selected Nunez for $50,000. He must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season; if he does not, the Pirates must offer him back to the Tigers for $25,000.
The Pirates lost right-hander Brett Lorin to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had the 25th pick.
The Seattle Mariners drafted Lorin, 24, in the fifth round in 2008. He spent the 2011 season with Class A Bradenton and went 7-6 with a 2.84 ERA. The Pirates acquired him in 2009 as part of the trade that sent Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners and brought Lorin, Ronny Cedeno, Aaron Pribanic, Nate Adcock and Jeff Clement to the Pirates.
"In Lorin's case, it's awfully difficult to stick in the Rule 5 draft," Huntington said. "To be selected is one thing, to stick is a whole different ballgame."
First Published December 9, 2011 12:00 am