NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pirates haven't exactly wiped out in their quest for rotation help at baseball's Winter Meetings. General manager Neal Huntington, however, has found that wave a tad crowded. In itself, nothing surprising about that: Starting pitching is any offseason's most valuable commodity. But the current demand for the available supply has gotten intense, perhaps enough so to knock the Bucs -- and other teams with limited funds -- out of the box. According to very informal straw polls around the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center's lobbies and walkways, more than half of MLB's 30 teams are actively shopping for starters, with the Pirates one of a handful ideally looking for a couple.
Pittsburgh is unable -- and certainly disinclined -- to wage either checkbook or prospect war with the big-market likes of the Dodgers and the Rangers. Thus, Huntington is likely facing a choice of two realities. One, leave on Thursday without an entry in the list of Winter Meetings transactions, which, he realizes, would dismay fans eager for him to pull a big trigger. "When we got here, we said we were never going to win the back pages of the offseason," said Huntington, referring to his hiring as Pirates GM a couple of months prior to the 2007 Winter Meetings. "A lot of clubs in markets like us are not going to make the big splash in the offseason or during the Winter Meetings. "The goal is to put together the best club and play meaningful games in September and playoff games in October. It may not happen today: I don't think any single move is going to make it all happen. It's a process, and we have to stay true to the process." Reality No. 2: Stay in the background until the bigger boys fill their carts, or lower your sights immediately to some of the arms with potential being overlooked by the elite teams. Those options range from someone like left-hander Manny Parra, the non-tendered Milwaukee lefty about whom the Pirates have already inquired, to buy-low pitchers who could soar high. That's a large group, including Roberto (The Pitcher Formerly Known as Fausto Carmona) Hernandez, Scott Kazmir and ... Ubaldo Jimenez? Huntington respects the code of not mentioning any specific player, either a free agent or another team's property, speculatively. However, Jimenez could fit the profile of the type of dark horse that Bucs must hit on to compete with those bigger payrolls. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has already demonstrated an affinity for players he formerly managed and appreciated in Colorado. Just to drop a couple of names: Clint Barmes and Jason Grilli. Jimenez led the American League with 17 losses last season for the Indians, who at the moment depend on him solely for rotation depth. If the Tribe picks up some reinforcements in the next couple of months, however, Jimenez is someone new Cleveland manager Terry Francona could easily part with. A rare pitcher whose performance suffered after getting out of the Mile High City, Jimenez has gone 13-21 with a 5.38 ERA in his season and a half in Ohio. But he turns only 29 in January, and Hurdle has vivid memories of the Jimenez who'd broken through on his 2009 Rockies staff as a 15-game winner with 198 strikeouts in 218 innings. Huntington declined to even say anonymously, one way or the other, whether any of Hurdle's former Colorado charges had cropped up in his conversations with executives of other teams. A former member of the Indians' front office himself, Huntington has a very positive relationship and always a clear line of communication with Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti. However, even something like that would develop later, and not break the Bucs' quiet here. That would be all right with Huntington, who has to be given major props for sticking to his guns -- so to speak -- and not pulling the trigger on a major trade that would involve sacrificing some of the organization's top prospects. Under considerable pressure, which many interpret as job jeopardy, it would be easy for Huntington to forego the future for a better chance to win now, for personal job security. However, he is keeping to the course he has laid out. "We're always working through things and laying groundwork, whether with agents or with other clubs," said Huntington, suggesting there is no such thing as inactivity, only perhaps delayed activity, at the Winter Meetings. "We want to build an organization that can sustain winning, once we get there. "It may not happen today. It may take some time. It may be a work in progress. But it is progress."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.