Notes: Bucs in no hurry to make moves
Pirates' surplus of young pitching has teams interested
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In a market where productive pitchers with relatively little big-league service seem to be coveted as much as established starting starters and middle-of-the-lineup boppers, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a pretty strong hand to play with this offseason.
Will the Pirates be able to use these assets to land the young, left-handed power bat that they covet? That remains to be seen.
As the annual Winter Meetings moved into a second day Tuesday, Pittsburgh GM Dave Littlefield was still keeping his cards close to his vest. The Pirates have yet to sign a free agent or make a trade since the end of the season, and it's entirely possible that the Bucs could stand pat for the rest of the Winter Meetings without making a move.
One thing that has become abundantly clear at these meetings is that the Pirates are not looking to deal any of their top four starting pitchers. While Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm aren't considered untouchable, the Pirates would have to be blown away by an offer to even consider moving one of them.
"We like our starters, but we've only got four starters," said Littlefield. "If you trade a starter, now you're down to three starters. That doesn't add up very well over the course of the season."
Instead, the Pirates are attempting to move one of their relief pitchers in exchange for the left-handed bat that they are looking to add to the middle of their lineup. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the demand for Mike Gonzalez, Salomon Torres, Matt Capps, John Grabow and Damaso Marte has been high.
"It's probably the one area that we are strongest and have a little bit of excess," said Littlefield. "A lot of people have interest in them. Not many people have five pretty good relievers."
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, left-handed-hitting sluggers with limited service time are also a relatively scarce commodity.
"There aren't many of those guys when you analyze teams in the league," said Littlefield. "There are some names that aren't as well-known, the higher-level prospect guys that may be ready to break on the scene.
"There's a half dozen that we're making plays for and talking to those clubs aggressively."
One player who fits the Bucs' profile to a tee, of course, is Atlanta first baseman Adam LaRoche. Laroche, 27, batted .285 with 32 home runs, 90 RBIs and an OPS of .915 last season with the Braves. He won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season.
Thus far, the Pirates have been unwilling to accept Atlanta's offer of LaRoche in exchange for Gonzalez. There was no movement on that front as of Tuesday night, and the Braves were reportedly considering a deal with the Angels that would have LaRoche heading to Los Angeles and Chone Figgins going to Atlanta.
If the Pirates are unable to swing a deal for LaRoche, they could pursue Florida's Mike Jacobs, Arizona's Chad Tracy and Washington's Ryan Church as alternatives.
"You're really honing in on four or five things that you have going," said Littlefield. "You're always working on backup plans and alternatives in other areas. You definitely are starting to get more clarity as to where people stand on things as they look at their options, too."
No Hawpe: One player that the Pirates won't be acquiring to fill their need for a left-handed hitter is Colorado Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe.
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, during his meeting with the media Tuesday, put to rest the rumor that Hawpe would be dealt to the Pirates for Maholm as part of a three-way deal with the Chicago Cubs. Hurdle told reporters that he planned to call Hawpe to let the outfielder know that he wasn't going anywhere.
"I don't like to give credibility to situations and things that are said that have no credibility," Hurdle explained. "But at the same time, there are emotions involved and you need to be cognizant of those.
"I thought people were kidding around, but there were some things shared with me about some comments that were made, and when they go on national TV and [are] saying we are involved in a three-way deal. ... We haven't had conversations with any of the people involved. I wasn't aware of [that rumor] until I got in the room this morning, because I am not a big ESPN guy. So now it might be time for me to get involved and reassure some guys. We are not peddling flesh. We're not."
Non-tender date looms: With one week to go before the Dec. 12 non-tender deadline, Littlefield has yet to determine whether or not he'll offer arbitration to all of his eligible players.
"I would say that most of them [will be offered arbitration]," said Littlefield. "There may be one or two that we are considering what we are going to do. But that's the case every year."
Two players who are most likely on the bubble are right-handed pitcher Shawn Chacon and backup catcher Humberto Cota.
Chacon, who will turn 29 on Dec. 23, earned $3.6 million in 2006. He went 7-6 with a 6.36 ERA in 26 appearances overall with the Pirates and Yankees, including a 2-3 mark and 5.48 ERA in nine starts with Pittsburgh after being acquired at the trading deadline. Chacon is currently listed as fifth on the Pittsburgh depth chart among starting pitchers, ahead of Shane Youman, Marty McCleary and Sean Burnett.
What the Pirates must determine is whether it would be cost-effective to bring back Chacon as the fifth starter. It's a decision that has been made tougher as salaries have escalated this offseason.
"Knowing that we have Chacon under control, and knowing that the free-agent market is pretty pricey right now, and the quality of what is out there for what we are likely in the market to obtain, it's hard to know for sure how it's going to go," said Littlefield.
"When we got him, part of the idea was that we had him under control for another year. As it's played out, I'm glad that we do have him."
Cota, 27, is coming off of the worse season of his professional career. A former Pirates Minor League Player of the Year, Cota had just 19 hits and five RBIs in 100 at-bats, and he rarely made it off the bench after the All-Star Game.
Bucs bits: The city of Bradenton has received a $15 million grant from the state of Florida to upgrade the Pirates' Spring Training facilities. The money will be paid out in annual installments of $500,000 for the next 30 years. The grant will allow the Pirates to demolish and rebuild their office building and dormitory at Pirates City, which was deemed to be unhealthy due to a mold problem. The new building is expected to be functional by Feb. 2008. ... The Pirates have not yet determined where they will hold their voluntary mini-camp for pitchers and catchers. The mini-camp had been held at Pirates City each January since its inception in 2001, but scheduling conflicts caused by players' participation in the Pirates Caravan could force the team to move the annual event to PNC Park next month.
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.