OK, the Bucs are rolling into the winter meetings with an alleged pocketful of cash and four openings on the 40-man roster. Among Rule 5, free agency, and some good ol' wheelin' and dealing, who should the Bucs be targeting?
First and foremost, they need a starter. A lefty would be nice for balance, but not a necessity. Right now, they have Ross Ohlendorf, James McDonald and Paul Maholm to build around, with Craig Morton, Jeff Karstens and Brad Lincoln eying the final two spots. The Pirates claimed Fernando Nieve to add to the competition, and may resign Brian Burres, who they just chopped from the 40-man roster.
The mid-tier FA guys the Pirates were targeting are shying away from the 'Burgh, so it looks like either they select a comeback kid like Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis, Scott Olsen, Justin Duchscherer or Chris Young, or make a deal. And pitching costs dearly, so we're not holding our breath waiting for them to pull the trigger on a trade.
One arm that just popped loose that could be a fit for the Pirates is the Met's RHP John Maine. He underwent a pair of shoulder surgeries, so he neatly falls into the comeback category. Maine is 29, had three solid seasons before going under the knife, and would be willing, we assume, to ink an incentive-laden one-year deal. He made $3.3M in 2010 and is entering his final arbitration season.
Adam Miller, 26, the injury-plagued righty top gun from the Indian organization, is available via Rule 5 and could prove a better risk than any of the guys on the comeback trail. But he is unproven, and in fact hasn't pitched since 2008 when he had the first of two surgeries on his finger during the offseason.
Then there's the RF/1B situation. They let Lastings Milledge go; apparently he felt he was an everyday player and the Pirates thought he was fourth outfielder material or worse. We were surprised they non-tendered him not because of performance issues, but because they don't have anyone to fill that platoon/fourth outfielder role on hand.
The FA marketplace is relatively thin in right-handed 1B/OFs with some pop in their bop. The market consists of guys like Austin Kearns, Carlos Pena, Marcus Thames, Bill Hall, Xavier Nady, Jorge Cantu and Troy Glaus. A new name just popped up on the radar, though.
Matt Diaz, 32, was non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves and fits the Bucco bill to a tee. The OF hit just .250/7/31 in 84 games last year, missing half the season with a thumb infection. But lifetime, he's a .301 hitter and has 12-15 HR potential along with a .456 slugging %. His downside is that he's never played first, but with Steve Pearce on the mend, that may not be a problem.
He has one year of arbitration eligibility left, and made $2.55M in 2010, so he's not priced out the Pirate market.
Shortstop has been temporarily plugged with the signing of Ronny Cedeno, but the FO doesn't seem as enchanted with him as JR was. In fact, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote that as late as Thursday night, the tender deadline, the Bucs were deep in talks with the Twins to land JJ Hardy.
Other available guys are Jason Bartlett (through trade), and free agents led by Edgar Renteria and Cesar Izturis.
The bullpen is in fairly good shape. Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan hold down the back end, Chris Resop did a decent job as a bridge man, and they inked Wil Ledezma. Karstens/Nieve should claim another spot, and Jose Ascanio will fill another seat on the bench. So they're probably looking at filling one job, and should be looking for a lefty.
The rest of the team is set, with Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Neal Walker and Chris Snyder/Ryan Doumit. Pedro Ciriaco should be the bench infielder, unless Cedeno is replaced. Pearce should be a RH platoon option, although the Pirates just picked up Andy Marte as a potential corner bat.
So the brass know what they need as they set up shop in Lake Buena Vista for the winter meetings next week. The Bucco's 2011 team should start to take shape then; right now, it doesn't look a heck of a lot different from September's squad.