Are the Pirates going to bring back Steve Pearce? -- Ryan F., Steubenville, Ohio
Pearce is one of 11 players that will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, and I don't anticipate the club tendering him a contract. Pearce has battled injuries seemingly every time he's been given an opportunity to play regularly in Pittsburgh. Some would say that's a reason to give him another chance. The club, however, seems ready to move on, unconvinced that he is a better option than some of the organization's other internal ones.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pirates explore signing Pearce to a Minor League contract in order to give him the chance to again break camp with the club. That, of course, would only happen if Pearce is interested in staying in the organization, and I'm not so sure that's the case. A change of scenery is something I think Pearce would welcome as he continues his efforts to prove that he can be a solid Major Leaguer.
With the Pirates' catching situation still in the air, I was wondering where Eric Fryer fits in the picture. I was impressed with his game presence during the short time he was playing for the Pirates. -- Scott A., Reading, Pa.
The Bucs' catching situation is in serious flux, and if Fryer is on the club's Opening Day roster, it means that the Pirates watched Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit go elsewhere and that the club was unable to reel in any other veteran backstop. Right now, Fryer remains basically a backup to the backup, though that's not to say that Fryer couldn't be a piece in Pittsburgh down the road. The 2012 season just seems a bit soon.
Fryer wasn't exactly ready to make the jump to the Majors this season; the Bucs were simply so far down on their catching depth chart that they had little choice but to make the move. If neither Doumit nor Snyder are re-signed, the three most Major League-ready catchers in the organization will be Michael McKenry, Jason Jaramillo and Matt Pagnozzi, in some order. Fryer would fall right behind that group.
Again, though, the Pirates would be taking a huge risk not bringing in a proven big league catcher to get the majority of the playing time. Everyone in the organization appears much more suited for a backup role than a regular one.
Have a question about the Pirates?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Pirates beat reporter Tom Singer for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Does Pedro Ciriaco stand to get a closer look next Spring Training at shortstop? -- Dennis S., Pittsburgh
If the Pirates are concerned that they are going to be left with Ciriaco as their starting shortstop, the club will exercise Ronny Cedeno's $3 million option. Pittsburgh sees Ciriaco as a capable backup -- across the infield and even in the outfield -- but he is not someone that the club has projected as ready for regular playing time.
The best impression Ciriaco made this season was the attitude he showed when he was going up and down between the Minors and the Majors. He never complained and seemed to remain genuinely grateful for every opportunity he got at the big league level. That, though, is not enough for the Pirates to entrust him with the everyday job at short.
What are the Pirates' plans for first baseman Matt Hague? I've seen him play in the Minors and he has hit for power at each level. Why was he not given a "tryout" in September, and why don't the Pirates see what he can do? -- David G., Wheeling, West Va.
The Pirates decided not to call up Hague in September simply because there would have been no playing time for him. With the club trying to lure Derrek Lee back for another season, the Bucs were not in a spot where they could sit Lee to give Hague some at-bats. As a result, they felt Hague's time could be better spent playing in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. Hague is there now, and had four hits in his first 16 at-bats.
Hague is certainly in the mix for a 2012 roster spot, but I don't get the impression that the Pirates feel he is ready to step in and be an impact first baseman right away. They have a lot of holes on offense going into next season, and filling one of them with an unproven Major League player is risky. That's not to say they won't give Hague a chance to play. But their primary objective is finding someone who can come in and immediately make the offense better.
I was wondering if you could tell me when the Pirates have to exercise or deny these options that they have. Also, when does free agency start back up and when they can start making trades?
-- Jason H., Steubenville, Ohio
Teams have until five days after the conclusion of the World Series to make decisions about club options, unless a player's contract specifies otherwise. The free agency period begins after that five-day window, too.
The trading market is open now. You might remember that two years ago, the Pirates traded for Aki Iwamura during the World Series. Right now, the club would certainly entertain offers for Paul Maholm, who will otherwise have his option declined soon and walk away as a free agent.
Obviously, the trade market picks up once free agency kicks up because that's the point when you have a better idea of what players are available and which deficiencies can be better addressed through trades than through free-agent pursuits. With a relatively weak free-agent market expected, we're likely to see an increase in trade activity this winter.
With concerns about a future shortstop and the lingering question about whether or not Pedro Alvarez will remain at third base, do the Pirates think that Brandon Wood could be the full-time answer to either one of those questions? He flashed some good defense and showed some offensive ability when given the opportunity. Will he get a fair shot at a starting job going into Spring Training?
-- Derek D. Slippery Rock, Pa.
The Pirates do not intend to go into the season with Wood penciled in as a starter. In fact, there's a chance that Wood might not even be a part of the roster. He is eligible for arbitration this winter and is hardly guaranteed to be tendered a contract. The more likely route for the Pirates to take would be to try to sign him without agreeing to the arbitration process.
It's time to move past the assumption that Wood would thrive as an everyday player simply because he was such a highly-touted prospect who had sustained success in the Minors. Wood has played in the Majors for parts of the last five seasons and has not had overwhelming success. His defense is steady, but it's not better than Cedeno's ability at short. His bat doesn't have the potential that Alvarez's still does.
In 236 at-bats with the Pirates this year, Wood batted .220 with 16 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs. That is not the upgrade the Pirates are looking for.
Any chance of getting updates on Pirates players in fall and winter league action in your column? If not, can you direct me where I can keep up with their progress?
-- Eric W., Bartlesville,Okla.
I post fall and winter league results on my blog (http://bucsbits.mlblogs.com/) regularly, so that is one place to look for that news. You will also find stories on the main pirates.com site about notable performances. The easiest way to find all this information, though, is to go to: http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/. There, you will be able to access all the fall/winter league web sites individually. You can also click on the Pirates icon and it will bring up a full list of fall/winter league participants from the organization. The information is sorted very nicely for you.