OK, there's some groundswell for the Bucs to fill a hole or three by using the money that's not being spent on payroll to find a free agent. A middle infielder or a guy with some pop would be a nice addition, no?
Before we take a look at the market, though, the Pirates have one winter conundrum, which is identifying what area they need to shore up without clogging the pipeline. And that depends mightily on one Mr. Pedro Alvarez, who the Pirates expect to be with the team next summer.
Is Pedro going to get with the program and report lean and mean to camp, or is he destined to be Pop's clone? If he's in third base shape, Andy LaRoche stands a good shot at dueling Delwyn Young for second base, and it may be that they will provide an internal answer to that position.
Ah, but if he eats his way to first base, then the Bucco options are a little more limited. That keeps Garrett Jones in the outfield, and probably takes Pittsburgh out of the corner outfield/first base market, the likeliest source of some sorely needed muscle.
Ignoring the minor-league meat market, which the suits are sure to trawl, here's some potential FAs that may be a match for Pittsburgh:
Ricky Ankiel, 30, OF (.231/11/38, 403 AB) Lousy year in 2009, but in 2008 he hit .264/25/71 with 463 AB. If the price is right, he could challenge for a spot, and his defensive skills are a good match for PNC.
Xavier Nady, 31 (1B-OF) Hey, his free agent year went south in a hurry with his season-ending injury. But he could, if recovered, play first and right and pop 15-20 over the fence. Then again, he is a Scott Boras client...
Nick Johnson, 31, 1B (.292/8/61) Johnson's power has dropped considerably since he broke his leg in 2007, but he did have a .472 OBP, and his patience at the plate might rub off on the baby Buccos.
As far as that LOOGY goes, the best are John Grabow, Will Ohman, and Alan Embry. Grabow will sit down with the Cubs after the season, and Ohman and Embry have club options, so none may make it to market. Joe Beimel is also avaiable.
We think they'll stay in the organization for the starting five, and Neal Huntington has suggested he likes the rotation as is, at least enough to keep it intact in 2010.
Ben Sheets and Joel Piniero are seeking deals if they decide to go outside the system for an arm. We mention that pair because what they need is a top three pitcher; there are already in-house candidates aplenty for the bottom end.
We think shortstop is a position where the Bucs could upgrade, but that would be through the trade market, not free agency. Khalil Greene is the only guy out there, and his last two years have been a nightmare at the dish.
J.J. Hardy is available from the Brew Crew, the D-backs' Stephen Drew's name has popped up, and Reid Brignac, the Tampa Bay Rays prospect in AAA Durham, who is pretty effectively blocked by Jason Bartlett and Tim Beckham, could be on the block.
None will come cheaply, and the Pirates may not have the minor league manpower to put together a package for them. Still, worth kickin' the tires.
There's not a lot out there for mid-level pick-ups; it's not a very strong FA class overall. It seems to us that there's a very limited set of players with the skill set, age, and contract value that the suits would pursue for other than a bench role.
If Neal Huntington does bag one or two, it'll be a good off-season for the team; but we think he'll continue to dumpster dive until the minor-league system is stocked deeply enough to deal. So if you were counting on some of that unspent payroll bringing Matt Holliday into town, don't hold your breath.