Kouzmanoff, Willingham on Pirates' radar

Kouzmanoff, Willingham on Pirates' radar

PITTSBURGH -- While the Pirates are prioritizing pitching, first base and shortstop in their current free-agent pursuits, their inquiries have not been limited only to players at those positions of need.

A source confirmed that the Pirates have checked in with free agent third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and outfielder Josh Willingham, both of whom spent time with Oakland in 2011. Third base and the outfield may not be the Pirates' biggest holes to fill, but the fact that the club is seeing what options are out there at those positions suggests it is not entirely content with its current options.

Third base, obviously, belongs to Pedro Alvarez, though the Pirates want to find a Plan B in case Alvarez endures a repeat of his 2011 season. That backup option could come internally (Josh Harrison or Chase d'Arnaud) or it could be filled by signing someone this winter.

Kouzmanoff, who hit .235 in an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, is unlikely to be the answer because he is seeking a starting job. But the Pirates are identifying other third-base options.

2011 awards
MLB.com takes a glance at each position entering the Hot Stove season.

SP: Plenty of mid-tier arms
RP: Closers flood market
1B: Pujols, Prince elite
2B: Thin but reliable
3B: Aramis the lone big bat
SS: Attention on Reyes
OF: Bargains available
DH: Ortiz the top target
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Hot Stove MLBlog
Hot Stove Tracker

"We are going to have a contingency plan in place [at third base]," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We are going to have to protect ourselves as best we can. It is [Alvarez's] job to take. It is his job to keep. But we are going to have to set ourselves up with an alternative in case of injury or in case it shocks us all and doesn't turn around."

Alvarez batted .191 with just four homers and 19 RBIs in 74 games. He missed time due to a right quadriceps injury and made two trips back to Triple-A Indianapolis during the summer.

Willingham, like Kouzmanoff, is eyeing the opportunity to sign with a club that will guarantee him regular playing time. That means he, too, is unlikely to be a fit in Pittsburgh. The 32-year-old right-handed-hitting outfielder hit .246 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs in 136 games last season.

But with the Pirates at least inquiring about available outfielders, it suggests that they are not yet set on having Alex Presley take over a starting role. With Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata expected to fill two-thirds of the 2012 outfield, Presley is the most likely internal option to take that third spot, if the Pirates do not acquire another outfielder.