All quiet on the Pirates' front
GM Littlefield searching for left-handed bat at Winter Meetings
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates did not make a big splash on Monday during the opening of the annual Winter Meetings. In fact, the level of activity inside the Bucs' suite at the Dolphin Hotel would barely register as more than a ripple.
Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield met with representatives from approximately a half-dozen other big-league teams on Monday. While names were exchanged and potential deals were discussed, nothing was finalized. Littlefield and his staff spent the balance of the day going over the most recent trade proposals and free-agent options.
"You are getting down the road a little bit more with the specifics of the names and who you want in return," said Littlefield, explaining the progress of the various trade negotiations. "It's a much deeper discussion in most cases. Sometimes, you hit a wall and you can't get through it. Other times, you start moving towards getting something done."
According to two sources, the Pirates have recently approached the Atlanta Braves about acquiring first baseman Adam LaRoche, who would certainly fill the Bucs' needs for a power bat from the left side of the plate. In 149 games with Atlanta last season, La Roche batted .285 with 32 home runs, 90 RBIs and an OPS of .915.
LaRoche, 27, also fits the profile of the type of left-handed hitter Littlefield would like to acquire. He is approximately the same age as the Pirates' core group of players, and he will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season. LaRoche earned $420,000 with Atlanta in 2006 and will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter.
The Pirates balked, however, when Atlanta asked for closer Mike Gonzalez in return for LaRoche.
According to Littlefield, whose policy is to not discuss trades or free-agent signings until they are official, Gonzalez has been one of the Pirates' most sought-after players this offseason, and one that they are least likely to deal.
"We have [Gonzalez] under control for the next three years, and he continues to get better," said Littlefield. "He had his first go around inching into the closer's role and did exceptionally well. Those are the kind of guys you want to keep and you think have more upside."
The Seattle Mariners are among a group of several other teams that are believed to be interested in LaRoche.
Tracy to miss Meetings: Pirates manager Jim Tracy is expected to remain in his home state of Ohio during the Winter Meetings, following the death of his father, Jim Tracy Sr., who passed away late last week after a long battle with cancer.
Backup plan: If the Pirates cannot swing a deal for a player with short service time to fill their need for a left-handed bat, Littlefield said that the Pirates would still consider signing a veteran free agent as a backup plan.
The Pirates have had mixed results in recent years when dipping into the free-agent pool for veteran hitters. Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton and Matt Stairs were steals for the Bucs in 2003. Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa were free-agent busts a year ago.
"We have some success with [older free agents] in the past, and we've missed on some of those guys," Littlefield added. "There's definitely a risk attached to it.
"Ideally, what we're looking to do is to get some players that fit in to the same service time and chronological age with the rest of the guys, because we've got basically everybody together for the next couple of years."
Suppan signing unlikely: With former Pirates hurler Jeff Suppan expected to command a multi-year deal worth as much as $10 million annually on the open market, Pittsburgh is an unlikely destination for the veteran right-hander.
The Bucs are one of about a dozen teams who have contacted Suppan's agent this offseason, but his asking price would represent approximately 20 percent of the Pirates' projected payroll for 2007, a figure that is out of line with Littlefield's ideas for building the team. The Bucs GM has made it clear in the past that he does not believe a club can enjoy long-term success when a large percentage of its payroll is committed to one player.
However, Littlefield did not completely shut the door on the possibility that the Pirates could offer an eight-figure contract this winter.
"It's not out of the realm [of possibility]," Littlefield said. "But it's probably something that we would have to look long and hard at based on the performance [of the player] recently and what their projected performance is going to be.
"We have the resources to do it. Whether we do it or not, and what else we can do around it, is also a part of the analysis."
No Bonds: The Pirates have no interest in signing free-agent slugger Barry Bonds.
Although Bonds, who spent the first seven years of his career in Pittsburgh before signing with the San Francisco Giants in 1993, could help boost attendance at PNC Park as he attempts to break Hank Aaron's all-time home-run record next season, the Pirates would rather look elsewhere for their left-handed power production.
"We're looking at a lot of different guys. At this point in time, there are probably some other people who fit better," said Littlefield.
Bucs bits: As usual, the young Pirates pitchers are drawing the most interest from opposing teams. Starters Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm and relievers Salomon Torres, John Grabow, Matt Capps, Damaso Marte and Gonzalez are all seen as valuable assets because of their potential for improved play at the big-league level and their bargain-basement contracts. ... The Pirates will have the fourth overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, but it is unlikely that they will use it. Due to changes in the collective bargaining agreement that added another year before Minor Leaguers must be protected, it is expected to be a weaker-than-normal draft. "The quality of the Rule 5 list is not as good as it has been in the past," Littlefield said. ... The Pirates GM also insists that he won't be disappointed if Pittsburgh comes away from the Winter Meetings empty-handed. "We're going to definitely do some things. Whether it comes today, tomorrow or Jan. 1, getting the best deal is the most important thing, not the timing of it," he said. "The goal is to get the team better in '07. It's not to make a trade at a particular time."
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.