The Bucs are starting the hot stove season in style, making up in quantity what they may be lacking in quality with the players they're in on, to varying degrees. And Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has been on top of his game, ferreting out many of the names. The players they're sniffing, as reported so far:
-- RHP Justin Duchscherer, who missed last year with hip and elbow surgery, along with a bout of clinical depression. But the 32 year-old was 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA for Oakland in 2008. One question: he wants very much to remain a rotation pitcher, which the Pirates are not supposed to be seeking. Maybe they see him as this year's Ben Sheets. The Red Sox are interested in him; the Rockies and White Sox have looked into him in the past. ( reported by DK)
-- RHP Jamey Wright, 35 later this month, had a 3-5 record and 4.33 ERA this year. He posted a strong groundball rate (59.1%). Wright earned $1.4M in 2009. KC is supposed to be after him to stay with the Royals. (tweeted by Bob Dutton of the KC Star)
-- LHP Noah Lowry, 29, started for San Francisco in 2003-07 and went 40-31 with a 4.03 ERA. He's been out since then with surgery on his left forearm in 2007, and more slicing and dicing in to remove a rib in 2008. Not much change that he'd return to the G-Men; he blames them for the long absence, saying they misdiagnosed his original injury. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners are also kicking his tires. ( reported by DK)
-- RHP J.J. Putz, 32, collected 76 saves in 2006-07, but only 17 during 2008-09 with Seattle and the Mets, with ERAs of 3.88 and 5.22. He had elbow problems last year, with surgery early on and then being shut down later in the year. The Mets declined his $9.1 million club option. Putz would like to close, but will accept a set-up role, too. The Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers also are checking him out. (reported by Jerry Krasnick of ESPN's Insider)
-- RHP Clay Hensley, 30, who pitched for the Padres and spent 2009 in AAA as a starter, has drawn some mild interest from the Bucs. (reported by DK)
-- RHP Kameron Loe, 28, spent last season in Japan after making 107 appearances for the Rangers in 2004-08, going 19-23 with a 4.77 ERA. He currently is pitching in Mexico. He's a Jeff Karstens type, a long man/spot starter. The Atlanta Braves, Dodgers and Athletics are among the others interested. (reported by DK)
-- OF Ricky Ankiel, 30, who hit .231/11/38 for the Cards last season. He's a good defensive outfielder with some boom in his bat, and is looked at as an insurance policy for Jose Tabata. His pursuit was confirmed by Frank Coonelly in his latest Hot Stove Chat. Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS posts where Ankiel may fit in the Bucco plans - or not.
-- The Bucs are also looking into Yankee OF/1B Xavier Nady and Oakland SS Bobby Crosby. Nady was injured in 2009, and Crosby, 30, who hit .223/8/31 and is one of the better glovemen in the league. Both would be fits for the Pirates in 2010; both are also Scott Boras clients. (reported by DK)
-- IF Jamey Carroll, 35, a 2B/3B utility guy from Cleveland, who hit .276 last year. Maybe Ramon Vazquez's position isn't etched in stone. Other teams in the hunt are the Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, A's, Rangers, Reds and Indians. (tweeted by Ed Price of AOL FanHouse)
-- 1B Hank Blalock, 28, hit .234/25/66 for Texas last year, and has some pop in his bat. (reported by DK)
-- While not impacting the MLB roster, the Pirates signed indy first baseman Chris Garcia. He turned 22 on November 25th, and was a 2007 draftee of the Angels (15th round). Garcia had a line of .332/.441/.455, but never advanced higher than Low Class A Orem. The lefty has a history of swinging a sweet stick, and it's sort of a mystery why the Angels gave up on him after just two seasons. The Pirates are thin at first base, so he's a logical addition. (reported by Charlie of the Buc's Dugout)
So what does that tell us as the suits go into Monday's winter meetings? Well, pretty much what we expected. They plan a cattle call for the bullpen, and not just for lefties. It is kind of a mild surprise that they're looking at starters like Duchsherer and Lowry, but they're both low-risk, high-reward guys, and you can never build too much competition or depth on the hill, especially if you're looking to move a couple of the current starters.
As for the position players, pretty much as expected. Find a corner outfield, first base type with some pop to serve as Jose Tabata's caddy or an insurance policy if he's ready later rather than sooner, bring in someone to keep Ronny Cedeno's feet to the fire (or put his butt on the bench; remember, they were in on JJ Hardy), and maybe take a peek at upgrading over Ramon Vazquez, though we don't see them eating his $2M contract.
And they're still looking to improve the minor league organization, scouring the waiver and free agent lists. They've improved the talent level, but are far from being deep at any position right now.
A word of caution - names getting tossed out don't mean much at this point; it's hard to tell who the Bucs are really interested in and who they're just touching base with in case the market for them softens.