Pirates' winter plan emphasizes existing talent
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A Ryan Doumit trade?
Signing Rick Ankiel?
The return of Mike Gonzalez?
Upgrading at shortstop with a big bat like Miguel Tejada?
Any of the above surely would be a headline-grabber for the Pirates this offseason, but the possibility of any actually taking place ranges from zero to seriously unlikely, to hear general manager Neal Huntington's overall assessment of this offseason. And that stance, as he stressed, stems from wanting to see more from what the team already has.
"We'll be looking for value, but we definitely don't feel like we're desperate to fill any hole," Huntington said. "We made the trade for Akinori Iwamura because second base was the position we identified as the one we most wanted to improve, but we feel good about the options that we have, now and for the future, and we're not going to abandon our plan. We absolutely will not do that."
Huntington displayed a clear awareness of how that might sound to some, given that the 2009 Pirates lost 99 games and ranked at or near the bottom of Major League Baseball in most offensive categories.
"We do want to improve our offense, and we're going to continue looking hard for ways to do that. But I'm not sure that, even if we bring in someone from the outside, it's going to help us win more games right away than what we have. We really like a lot of the options that we have going into next year."
Working around the horn ...
Behind the plate, the Pirates again will have Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo. Doumit has been linked by multiple national media outlets to trade possibilities in recent weeks, but Huntington was adamant that the team is not shopping him.
"There were some rumors about Ryan, but we've never shopped him, and we actually aren't shopping any of our players," Huntington said.
A projected depth chart for the 2010 Pirates, based on their current 40-man roster:
- Ross Ohlendorf
- Zach Duke
- Paul Maholm
- Charlie Morton
- Kevin Hart
- Daniel McCutchen
- Matt Capps
- Joel Hanrahan
- Evan Meek
- Steven Jackson
- Chris Jakubauskas
- Phil Dumatrait
- Jose Ascanio
- Anthony Claggett
- Ryan Doumit
- Jason Jaramillo
- Jeff Clement
- Steve Pearce
- Akinori Iwamura
- Delwyn Young
- Brian Bixler
- Ronny Cedeno
- Ramon Vazquez
- Argenis Diaz
- Luis Cruz
- Andy LaRoche
- Pedro Alvarez
- Neil Walker
- Andrew McCutchen
- Garrett Jones
- Lastings Milledge
- Jose Tabata
- Brandon Moss
That includes, he added, closer Matt Capps. The Pirates are known to have offered Capps to Milwaukee in a trade bid for shortstop J.J. Hardy before the Brewers sent Hardy to Minnesota. A FoxSports.com report said Doumit also was offered for Hardy, though no one with the Pirates will confirm that.
Keeping Doumit falls much more in line with the Pirates' recent practices than moving him.
For one, they need the offense he can provide when healthy. Last season, Doumit missed nearly three months to a fractured wrist and batted .250 with 10 home runs. But, over 116 games two seasons ago, he batted .318 with 15 home runs.
"We saw Ryan coming around in the last month of this past season, at the plate and behind the plate, and that could mean a lot to us next year," Huntington said.
For another, if Doumit were traded now, it would be at low value. That is in stark contrast to the timing of Huntington's deals involving Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth and others.
The Pirates are mostly set up the middle at the other positions, with Iwamura at second and Andrew McCutchen in center field. They remain open to upgrading at shortstop over Ronny Cedeno, as evidenced by the pursuit of Hardy, but management is mostly upbeat about Cedeno's potential. He batted .258 with five home runs after arriving in July and occasionally turned outstanding plays in the field, but he also lapsed on some routine plays.
"We like Ronny, and we believe Carlos Garcia can bring more out of him," Huntington said, referring to the Pirates' new infield instructor.
Upgrading will not be easy, as the aggressive pool of suitors for Hardy showed. Tejada is the most prominent shortstop in free agency, but his defense has fallen to the point that most in the industry see a move to third as necessary. Most of the other shortstops -- think Adam Everett -- are defense-first types.
The Pirates might prefer to add one of those and hope for the best from Cedeno. Or they could fall back on defense-first prospect Argenis Diaz.
That leaves the corners, where the roster would appear to have the greatest potential for an immediate upgrade.
Garrett Jones will play whichever of first base or right field the Pirates do not fill. Andy LaRoche will return to third base, at least until top prospect Pedro Alvarez is ready. And Lastings Milledge is the default left fielder.
From there, management's preference is that Jeff Clement, the main piece in the Jack Wilson trade, will win the first-base job in the spring. Clement, 26, batted .274 with 21 home runs in Class AAA last season but remains a project defensively.
"He might not win a Gold Glove over there, but we think he can do well enough if the bat plays," Huntington said. "And we feel good that it will."
The Pirates also feel quite good about top outfield prospect Jose Tabata, fresh off a terrific run through the Arizona Fall League. Though they do not project Tabata making the team out of spring training, he is a strong candidate for a mid-season promotion.
Still, expect that this first base/right field opening will represent the Pirates' best chance of adding a significant piece this winter.
It is believed that management already has made contact with two free agents, Ankiel and Hank Blalock, each represented by super-agent Scott Boras. Ankiel, 29, is an outstanding defensive outfielder who slumped to .231 in St. Louis last season but hit 25 home runs the previous year. Blalock, 28, is a first baseman who, similarly, is coming off a subpar year for average at .234. But he had 25 home runs, his fourth time at that plateau.
The Pirates' preference, if they sign someone in this mold, is for a short-term contract aimed at allowing the player a chance at full-time duty to revive their careers. If the Pirates are contending, the player stays. If not, or if someone such as Tabata pushes his way onto the roster, the player can be traded.
"That's the important thing here: We have six good options for our four corner positions, and those options might be better than what we can get from the outside, even in the short term," Huntington said.
Do not expect any significant additions -- or subtractions -- involving the starting rotation: Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton will return, and Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen will battle for the fifth spot.
Four bullpen spots look solidified, with Capps, Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek and Steven Jackson, but three more -- including a left-hander -- are needed. Newly acquired Chris Jakubauskas has the inside track on long duty, so there could be a broad competition for two or three openings.
That will include more free agents, Huntington said, but those will not come with sizable investments, as per Huntington's long-held stance that bullpen performance is the hardest to predict. Thus, it is safe to rule out Gonzalez and other big or even medium-scope names.
The Pirates' projected payroll for 2010, based on anticipated salaries for the 25 players most likely to make the team, is $31 million. That would be $18 million less than the figure from opening day of last season, the most defined indicator that there is plenty of what Huntington calls "financial flexibility."
Huntington has been cleared to spend more by team president Frank Coonelly -- though no firm figure has been disclosed -- but he expressed no urgency to do so, citing solely baseball reasons.
"We're not going to spend money just to say we did it," Huntington said. "Sure, we could do that. But we're trying to make decisions that make the most sense for us, now and in the future."
NOTES -- The Pirates had been linked in international reports to 37-year-old Japanese reliever Riyota Igarashi, but those greatly multiplied the team's actual interest. ... The Pirates have until Monday to trade catcher Robinzon Diaz, designated for assignment last week, or lose him to minor league free agency.
First Published November 27, 2009 12:00 am