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Mailbag: Bucs shopping for free agents?

Mailbag: Bucs shopping for free agents?

Which of the Pirates are playing winter ball? Do the Pirates have any influence on who is required to play?
-- Chris L., Mercer, Pa.

According to Pirates baseball operations assistant and all-around good guy Bryan Minniti, the following members of the Bucs' 40-man roster are scheduled to play winter ball this year: Jose Bautista (Licey, Dominican), Jonah Bayliss (Caribes, Venezuela), Rajai Davis (Caracas, Venezuela), Yurendell DeCaster (Caribes), Ryan Doumit (Mazatlan, Mexico), Carlos Maldonado (Caribes), Marty McLeary (Mazatlan), Nate McLouth (Aguilas, Domincan), Ronny Paulino (Azucareros, Mexico) and Shane Youman (Caribes). There is a possibility that Jose Castillo (Venezuela) and Juan Perez (Dominican) will also play in their home countries this winter. The Pirates can, and often do, ask players to participate in the Winter Leagues, but the Pirates don't have the authority to force their players to play during the offseason. In some cases, however, they can limit the amount of innings their pitchers throw during the winter.

How much time does Dave Littlefield have left on his contract? Is his contract likely to be renewed or will he be dismissed early if the Pirates have another losing season?
-- Troy M., Columbia, Md.

Littlefield signed a one-year extension on Opening Day last year that will take him through the 2008 campaign.

There was some speculation near the end of last season that Littlefield's job was in jeopardy, but he was later given a public vote of confidence by the team ownership. The Bucs' top brass is giving Littlefield another chance to prove that he can field a competitive team with the core group of young players he has assembled.

Littlefield is the first to point out the fact that he is ultimately judged by his won-loss record, and the Pirates have posted losing records in each of his five full seasons at the helm. I don't think it's a stretch to say that 2007 will be a very important year for Littlefield.

Why don't the Pirates go after Barry Zito of the A's? He is a free agent after this year.
-- Shawn P., Northern Cambria, Pa.

Why don't the Pirates acquire free agent Alfonso Soriano to complement Jason Bay's power, too?
-- Gary K., Huntingdon, Pa.

As much as the Pirates would certainly benefit from the additions of Zito and Soriano, Pirates management has said that the team will not be in the market for the top tier free agents this winter.

Zito, Soriano and Carlos Lee will be among the most sought-after players in a free agent class with relatively few high-impact players, and the Pirates do not believe that they can afford to get into bidding wars against higher revenue clubs for the services of top stars. There is also a belief among many in the organization that the top free agents would not be interested in coming to Pittsburgh because of the Bucs' lack of success since 1992.

If the Pirates acquire a power hitter, would that move Freddy Sanchez out of the third spot in the batting order?
-- Jim M., Tucson, Ariz.

Not necessarily, Jim.

Although Sanchez doesn't put up the kind of home run numbers that teams typically look for from their No. 3 hitter, he has nonetheless shown that he can be an effective run producer. Sanchez's league-leading 53 doubles helped to make up for his six home runs, and he finished the year with a respectable .473 slugging percentage while driving in 85 runs.

Sanchez's talent as a run producer is certainly enhanced by his ability to hit in the clutch. His .386 average with runners in scoring position ranked second among all National League hitters. Only Albert Pujols was better.

If the Pirates are able to acquire a proven left-handed power bat this offseason, they could keep Sanchez at the third spot in the lineup and move Jason Bay down to fifth in the order behind the new lefty slugger. Another option would be to move Sanchez up to the second spot in the lineup and keep Bay as the cleanup hitter.

Have a question about the Pirates?
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Are the Pirates going to sign Sanchez to a long-term contract? He said he would like to stay with the Pirates, and I am sure many fans want him to stay as well.
-- Heather D., Pittsburgh

The Pirates will likely lock Sanchez up to a multiyear deal at some point, Heather, but I don't know if it will happen this offseason.

When I spoke to Sanchez last week, Freddy told me that he had not yet been contacted by the Pirates about a possible contract extension. Sanchez added that he and his agent are preparing to go through with the arbitration process, if necessary, later this winter.

It should be noted that the Pirates are in no way obligated to offer Sanchez a long-term deal. Sanchez is a first-time arbitration-eligible player and he will be under the contractual control of the Pirates for the next three seasons, with or without a multiyear deal.

The reasons that the Pirates and players such as Jason Bay and Jack Wilson have agreed to multiyear contracts in the past is because the deals provide cost-certainty for the team and financial security for the player. It can be a win-win situation for both sides.

In the past two mailbags, people have been writing in about being good luck charms. I believe that my family tops them all. My dad took my brothers and I to a game during the last season at Three Rivers Stadium. We have been traveling the over 300-mile drive to Pittsburgh from Eastern New Jersey for the past seven years at least once per year. We usually see a Saturday night game and a Sunday afternoon game. During these trips we have been to a total of 14 games at the stadium, along with Piratefest in 2005. I would consider us a dedicated family. In the 14 games we've been to, the Pirates have won 13, including this year's sweep of both the Cardinals and even the Mets to prevent them from clinching in Pittsburgh. So, I believe that the Oran family is the ultimate good luck charm for the Pirates.
-- Jillian O., Marlboro, N.J.

Thirteen out of 14? Wow. Pretty impressive. I knew that there was something funny in the air for that Mets series.

It looks like Jillian, or her dad, are the new frontrunners for the fictional VP position I suggested last week. Maybe Jillian's family and the other past mailbag contributors will consider following this suggestion from another reader:

For the past two weeks, people have been saying they should be the Pirates' good luck charm for games. The only way I think the Buccos should do that is if they send them to away games, too. We have a horrible road record and need as much help as we can get!
-- Zack L., Pittsburgh

Well played, Zack. Well played.

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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