Pirates could seek upgrade at shortstop

Pirates could seek upgrade at shortstop

PITTSBURGH -- Even though it hasn't been the club's top priority, the Pirates have been aggressive in seeking an upgrade at shortstop this offseason.

There are indications that the Pirates might not be as aggressive in those pursuits now that Ronny Cedeno is signed for next season. But according to one baseball source, the Pirates are not ready to end the search for a better option.

Cedeno has served as the team's everyday shortstop since being acquired in July 2009. Though he has shown flashes of his physical tools, the inconsistencies on offense and defense have been maddening to the organization. The natural ability is something the Pirates aren't willing to give up on just yet. But knowing there is a need to improve the middle-infield defense has prompted the club to look externally for another answer.

If the Bucs are able to land another shortstop before next season, the team would be comfortable slotting Cedeno into a versatile utility role. He can play anywhere across the diamond and has been getting work in the outfield while playing winter ball. The word out of Venezuela is that Cedeno is playing the outfield well, too.

Recent reports have linked the Bucs to shortstops J.J. Hardy and Jason Bartlett. However, the cost for acquiring either could be high.

Despite speculation that Hardy might be non-tendered, the Twins did offer him a contract on Thursday. That kept Hardy from becoming a free agent.

The Twins can still trade him, and they'll continue to hear offers. However, now that Hardy is guaranteed an arbitration process if he wants one, he should see an increase in the $5.1 million salary he received in 2010. Hardy batted .268 with six home runs in an injury-plagued season.

Bartlett was also tendered a contract on Thursday, meaning the Tampa Bay shortstop will be due a nice pay bump from the $4 million he made last year. Again, the Rays have shown a willingness to listen to trade proposals. But their primary need is bullpen help, which means that they'd likely ask for Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek in return.

The Pirates have the financial flexibility to add either of these two shortstops. The question is whether the club wants to use that much of its available spending money to address an area that is not the top offseason priority. And then there's the question of whether the club would be willing to meet the asking price in a trade.

"We'll never stop looking for an upgrade at any position, and we'll never stop looking for depth at any position," general manager Neal Huntington said. "But as we sit here right now, we feel like we have some other areas of focus."

As for Cedeno, he has made it no secret that he wants another chance to prove he can be an effective everyday player.

"I want to be the man," Cedeno said. "I want to be the starter next year, too. My numbers are not even close to what I wanted this year. That's why I'm frustrated a little bit. Next year is going to be another year. I can get better, learning from everything -- the errors, the emotion."

Cedeno batted .256 with eight home runs and a .293 on-base percentage in 139 games last season. He was benched for a brief period in late June after having some lapses on the field, but he regained his starting spot soon after. Cedeno committed 18 errors in the field, his highest such total since 2006.

In the 20 games he has so far played with the Venezuelan League's Tigres de Aragua, Cedeno has hit .292 with four homers and a .297 on-base percentage. All seven of his extra-base hits have come off right-handed pitching.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.