The deadline for Type A and B free agents (Lee falls in the Type B category) to accept or reject an arbitration offer is midnight on Wednesday, and it does not appear likely that Pujols and Fielder will both have their futures resolved by then.
Lee would be wise to wait until after Pujols and Fielder land, as that could open up a bigger market for the 36-year-old veteran. He hit just .246 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs while earning $7.25 million in 2011. However, Lee did end the year with a .337 average after being traded to Pittsburgh at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline.
The Pirates have maintained their interest in Lee since the season ended and are under the impression that Lee will return to the Majors in 2012. That latter point is newsworthy, as Lee did leave open the possibility of retirement when asked to discuss his future in late September.
"The intention that we've gotten is yes, he intends to play next year, but [for] the right fit and the right opportunity," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who also confirmed that the Pirates will not stop pursuing Lee if he rejects their arbitration offer.
Though first base would seem the most obvious position for the Pirates to upgrade, Huntington did not characterize that as a must. He noted the club does have internal candidates to fill that hole, though it's debatable whether those options would provide the offensive punch the Pirates seemingly need.
Those internal candidates include Garrett Jones, Matt Hague and non-roster invitees Nick Evans and Jake Fox.
Of course, the Pirates might be left little choice but to go with some combination of these four players, given the limited number of available free-agent first basemen.
"We've got some holes we're looking to fill, but we don't feel like we desperately have to do anything," Huntington said. "That's a pretty good spot to be in. If we can upgrade? Outstanding. Upgrade at an appropriate acquisition cost, even better."