Free-agent market impacting Bucs

Free-agent market impacting Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- Since signing infielder Ramon Vazquez to a two-year deal on Friday, the Pirates have been quiet on the free-agent front. However, in the past few days, the free-agent market has not been quiet on the Pirates' plans.

Confused? Hang with me here.

On Monday, the Astros signed free-agent outfielder Jason Michaels to a one-year contract with a base salary of $750,000. Michaels, who spent most of the '08 season as the Pirates' fourth outfielder, had expressed interest in returning to Pittsburgh next year, and Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington had said the club would welcome Michaels back.

However, the Pirates never made Michaels an offer. And when it became clear that the club had no intention to negotiate with Michaels in the immediate future, the 32-year-old outfielder turned elsewhere.

Now, with Michaels playing for a division rival, Huntington must look at other options as the Pirates work to rebuild their bench and find a right-handed-hitting fourth outfielder. Huntington has so far come up empty in his pursuit of a right-handed-hitting outfielder with power.

There are a number of directions the Pirates can now turn to fill that void. The club has expressed interest in free-agent utility players Ty Wigginton and Jerry Hairston Jr., both of whom can play in the outfield. However, both are being courted by numerous teams, which will only shoot the bidding upward.

With three starting outfielders already in place for next season and Andrew McCutchen nearing his debut, there is no need for the Pirates to find someone for a long-term fit. The Pirates are also not going to set aside a large sum for a veteran backup outfielder. But it's still on the shopping list.

On a separate front, Atlanta's pending deal with shortstop Rafael Furcal could also have implications for the Pirates. Just when the market for shortstop Jack Wilson seemed to have dried up, Furcal's decision to go back to the Braves changes the dynamic of that market.

By missing out on Furcal, the Dodgers, who had hoped to resign the 31-year-old speedy infielder, must turn their search for a shortstop elsewhere. It wasn't too long ago that the Dodgers' search had them talking to the Pirates about a potential deal for Wilson. Remember, the Dodgers backed off in their talks with the Pirates late in November because of a high asking price and because of the priority they made in courting Furcal.

Los Angeles could turn its attention to former White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera, but will run short of other available options otherwise.

Hot Stove

If the Dodgers continue to be concerned by finding a proven, veteran shortstop, they very well may be willing to reopen those trade talks with Pittsburgh. Los Angeles has been after Wilson since July and a thinner shortstop market will give the Pirates more leverage to have their demands met. The club is believed to be after young shortstop prospect Chin-Lung Hu, outfielder Delwyn Young and a third unknown prospect.

It's no secret that the Pirates still believe there is a suitor for Wilson, and the club continues to strongly explore trade opportunities even if it means paying some of Wilson's '09 salary.

In other words, as pieces fall into place elsewhere, stay tuned.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.