Pirates to play it by ear at Meetings
GM Huntington doesn't feel pressured to make a move
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington likes his position heading into next week's Winter Meetings.
He likes much of what he has, but at the same time, he knows that other teams do, too. And as a result, Huntington feels like he is in the driver's seat.
If no deals are made, that's fine. But Huntington's ears are sure to be burning as names are certain to be floating around -- Jason Bay, Ian Snell, Jack Wilson. The list goes on as league-wide needs are vast.
Consequently, Huntington finds himself in a good bargaining position. He can sit tight, continue discussions, make his demands high and then evaluate whether he is ready to pull the trigger. And that's exactly what he plans to do.
"We don't feel the need to have to do anything at the Winter Meetings," Huntington said. "It's one of those things that if we leave the Winter Meetings and don't make any trades, we won't be disappointed. But at the same time, we're looking to continue having the dialogues that we've been having. And if the right opportunities present themselves, we will consider them."
The reason Huntington doesn't feel pressured to leave the meetings with a different roster than the one with which he arrives is because the Pirates like a number of pieces that they have in place already. They have a young nucleus of position players set, and while there are holes to be filled, the Pirates don't feel rushed to do so.
Yes, the list of needs is still long. But it's not a list with items that Huntington feels he has to start crossing off in Nashville, Tenn.
Part of his hesitancy to make too many deals too quickly is also a result of Huntington's position as a first-year general manager. He has evaluated everyone on the team on paper since the season ended, but is still eager to see firshand what gems and what talent the system holds. He will have to wait until Spring Training to really start doing so.
As a result, rather than find a temporary veteran fix for 2008, Huntington is more interested in evaluating the players who are already in the system and seeing how they may fit into the equation for next season and beyond.
"For example, we want to know if Jose Bautista is just starting to get going and can establish himself at third," Huntington said, explaining this mentality. "We want to see if Ronny Paulino can become the hitter that he was in 2006. We have some exciting guys in [Nyjer] Morgan and [Steve] Pearce that we want to get playing time. We have players that we want to see."
Therefore, there is not a pressing need to make a blockbuster deal -- or even a minor one, for that matter -- during next week's Meetings.
Now, don't mistake Huntington's assurance that he would be content with a quiet week in Nashville as meaning that he is content with the current condition of the Pirates. He's not.
A team that finished with the league's worst record obviously has some gaping holes, and that's not something the organization is planning to ignore.
There is a pressing need for more depth, both on the Major League club and in the Minor League rungs. There is a need for immediate bullpen help, particularly for a right-handed veteran arm. There is a need to acquire more infield depth, and if possible, to land another capable starter for the rotation.
"In essence, anything that brings us more depth would be worth looking at," Huntington said. "If we can do that, we will make a move. We will also be looking to upgrade our Minor League system whether it be through trades or maybe through making some Rule 5 claims."
In other words, the Pirates are going to take their time and use every avenue possible to improve the club.
But the Winter Meetings will give the Pirates an ideal opportunity to gauge the interest other clubs have in certain pieces of their team. Being in a position where he doesn't feel pressed to make any moves, Huntington has the luxury of setting high asking prices for Pirates players in demand. And then he can evaluate the response.
While improved depth is needed at just about every area of the Pirates' Major and Minor League systems, if they have any excess anywhere, it lies in the outfield. With Bay, Morgan, Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, Pearce, Chris Duffy and soon, Andrew McCutchen, the club has plenty of options to fill the three outfield holes. Therefore, moving an outfielder in order to acquire pitching would seem a logical path to take.
"I would say we probably have a comfort zone in our outfield," Huntington said. "But we would like to get to the point where we feel we have so much talent that we have an excess in numerous places."
Huntington insists that there are no payroll restrictions deterring him from making any moves.
"Payroll isn't dictating the direction we are going in," he said. "The direction we are going in is dictating the payroll."
That direction includes building from within and evaluating the players already in the system. Again, the Pirates don't see value in parting ways with young players to sign a big-name free agent or complete a blockbuster deal.
"Everyone focuses on what your payroll is, and that shouldn't be the focus," Huntington continued. "We have no financial restrictions. We are not going to be big players in the free-agent market because we want to see the players that we have get a chance to play."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.