The Pirates have had a slow off season so far, filling in some depth pieces (which worked out pretty well last year) but not addressing concerns at first base, the rotation and shortstop. Here's what they'll be looking for from the baseball meetings today until camp opens in March:
First base: Gaby Sanchez is the only 1B on the roster. The Bucs are working on Plan Bs internally, with both Andrew Lambo and Jerry Sands taking an occasional turn at the sack. There is no immediate minor league help; Matt Hague isn't regarded highly enough to be on the 40-man roster, while Matt Curry is working through the system. It may be that Josh Bell will sooner or later become the answer, but in the short term, the cupboard is bare, and the Bucs have to land someone during the off season.
James Loney is probably the best market guy available as a platoon partner with Gaby. He's said to looking for a three-year, $27M deal, and several clubs have at least inquired on him. Other lefties that are available to varying degrees are Logan Morrison, Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind, Justin Smoak, Mike Morse and Mark Trumbo.
Pitching: AJ is keeping the Bucs hanging on, and our guess is the longer he waits, the more likely he is to hang 'em up. It looks like he's keeping to his word to return or retire; his name hasn't come up on any other teams' wish list.
The Bucs have a core of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton returning. Whether Wandy Ridriguez or Jeff Locke can be counted on as major contributors in 2014 is problematic. Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel will be in the mix for back end jobs, with Jameson Taillon and possibly Nick Kingham potential mid-to-late season additions. The injured Kyle McPherson was DFA'ed, and the Bucs would like to sign him to a minor league deal.
There's not a lot left on the market (Bartolo Colon, Bronson Arroyo, Chris Capuano, Matt Garza, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, John Lannon, Johan Santana, Edison Volquez, Jake Westbrook, Jerome Williams) the Pirates may swing a deal after the rosters begin to fill up around the league. They will add here; if you recall, they started last season with more starters than stars in the sky, but were scuffling for arms by season's end.
Shortstop: The Pirates could go a couple of different ways here. We'd expect Plan A to be bringing back Clint Barmes as Jordy Mercer's platoon partner but at a reserve's salary. Barmes is testing out free agancy, and his market value will determine if he remains as a Pirate.
Plan B would be to make Mercer a super infield sub and deal for a starter (there are none in the FA market except Stephen Drew, who isn't in the Pirates comfort zone, costing a draft pick and a hefty deal). There are several young guys that Pittsburgh could target, but they may be price prohibitive, so Jordy could end up #1 by default.
The Bucs have several good glove, no hit guys in the system and one guy rising with a star in Alen Hansen, whose ETA is 2015.
The FO has cleared up a couple of other spots. It looks like right field will be covered in-house until Gregory Polanco arrives by some combo of Jose Tabata, Andrew Lambo, Travis Snider and Jaff Decker. There wasn't much available, and the spot is a keep-warm position for Polanco, as not only the Bucs but the FA outfielders around the league all know. So staying in-house is the sensible route to take.
They also made it obvious that they think Tony Sanchez needs more work. An argument could be made that he'd be better served as a reserve, catching the MLB pitchers and acclimating to a full season in the show, but the brass want him to get regular innings at Indy and swung a deal for Chris Stewart to serve as Russ Martin's caddy in 2014.
They also are keeping to their commitment to build depth, especially at pitching, bringing in a handful of guys already. It paid off in spades in 2013, and their player evaluation skills for pitchers was quite sharp last season.
Don't expect the pen to remain static; a couple of multi-year contracts have been doled out to mid-relievers, and that makes guys under control like Tony Watson and Justin Wilson especially valuable trade pieces.
Looking at the market, we don't see the Bucs diving in; Loney looks like the only major piece they have an eye on. But with some bullpen bangles to go with strong minor-league pitching and outfielder prospects, they are positioned to make a trade or two to strengthen the club.