The signings of catcher Rod Barajas and shortstop Clint Barmes leave the Pirates with fewer needs to address at this year's Winter Meetings, which kick off on Monday. And as a result, it's tough to anticipate just how active the Pirates might be when club officials and staff descend upon Dallas.
Though they still have a list of well-defined goals -- topped by the need to figure out what to do at first base -- the Pirates could very well use the next week to lay the groundwork for later activity without actually making any immediate moves. In fact, circumstances may afford the organization little choice.
For one, the Pirates must wait until Derrek Lee rejects or accepts their arbitration offer before they can seriously pursue another option at first base. Lee does not have to make that decision until midnight on Wednesday, just before the official end of the Winter Meetings.
Second, the Pirates could find that they have to wait for some of the big-name free agents to settle before the rest of the market falls into place. That is particularly the case with first base and pitching, the club's primary areas of need.
If there is any activity by the Pirates, it's likely to go under the radar since the club is not in the mix for the top crop of available free agents.
Here is a look at how the Pirates are positioned as the Winter Meetings approach:
First baseman: This remains the Pirates' largest hole to fill, though they are in a bit of a holding pattern while they wait on Lee. If the Pirates are not able to re-sign Lee, they are going to have to get creative. A thin free-agent market doesn't give the organization a lot of affordable options, which means it may have to be aggressive in the trade market. The club has Garrett Jones and/or Matt Hague as internal fall-back options but prefer to find more of an impact bat for this position.
Starting pitching: The Pirates do have four-fifths of their rotation returning, though that doesn't mean there isn't room for upgrades. Not only do the Pirates have to find a way to replace Paul Maholm, they need to protect against the possibility that Charlie Morton (hip surgery) will not be ready by Opening Day. Though the Pirates have some young pitchers who may be ready to step into the rotation, they would like to add a veteran pitcher to fortify that group.
Bench and bullpen: The Pirates have enough internal options to be pretty well set in both of these areas, though that's not going to stop them from searching for upgrades. The bullpen will come into better focus once the Pirates make decisions regarding their arbitration-eligible players. As for the bench, the club might want to complement some of their internal pieces with a veteran player or two.
Whom they can or need to trade
The Pirates do not need to trade anyone, and they actually have a few players on the Major League team who would seem to fit as trade bait. If they wanted to make a bold move, they could consider trading closer Joel Hanrahan, whose value is at its highest. Given how much teams have shown that they're willing to pay for closers, the Pirates could get a hefty return if they're willing to let go of him. Of course, that would also leave the Pirates without a closer, which is a risk they might not want to take.
RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Jameson Taillon, OF Starling Marte, OF Josh Bell, RHP Luis Heredia, C Tony Sanchez, OF Robbie Grossman, RHP Kyle McPherson, RHP Stetson Allie
Though general manager Neal Huntington has said that the organization is willing to deal prospects, he would only do so if the return promises to be substantial. The club is going to continue to build its core through its farm system, meaning that its long-term outlook depends largely upon this group of prospects. The Pirates are not going to part with anyone from this group unless, in return, they are getting an established player who can make an immediate and substantial impact.
Big contracts they may unload
Jason Grilli, Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Evan Meek, Morton, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Resop, Jose Veras
Grilli, Ohlendorf, Resop, Veras
The date to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players is Dec. 12. Determining which of these relievers to retain is likely to be the Pirates' toughest arbitration-related decision.
The Pirates are not among the teams that make their payroll projections public. However, it's reasonable to assume that the club has the financial flexibility to open 2012 with a payroll of more than $50 million. Though the club already used $9 million to sign Barajas and Barmes, the earlier offseason decision to decline four player options leaves plenty of available money to spend. Some of that will be allocated to arbitration-eligible players who will see bumps in salary; the rest is expected to be dangled before free agents.