Bill Brink: Coming to you from Dallas, where it's a balmy 35 degrees outside, for our Winter Meetings chat. We'll start up at noon, but send us your questions now.
Poll Question: Where do the Pirates most need to upgrade?
Corner outfield: 0%
Starting rotation: 56%
Third base: 11%
First base: 33%
Michael Sanserino: He wasn't as in shape as he should have been, but he was not as out of shape as many fans would like to believe. When he returned from his quad injury, he had slimmed down. He appears (thanks, Twitter pics) to be trimmer than he was at the end of the season. Most of his problems, though, are not physical. They are mental.
Zach: What are the Pirates doing this offseason in terms of signing and resigning players that are impact players? Because yet again it seems like they are doing absolutely nothing. Pitching????
Bill Brink: Depth is the key. They don't want a repeat of last season, where injuries to key players -- along with the decline of the rotation in the second half -- scuttled their chances. They're looking at corner outfield depth and third base depth. Huntington mentioned yesterday that depth could be their most important position and that they will continue to rely on young players, which means it's possible they will not come away from the Winter Meetings with an impact free agent signing.
JAL: Huntington said they need contingency plan in place for 3rd base. Any idea what that would be? Can't really sign a good FA to sit on the bench but a poor one would not be good for 3b
Poll Question: Of the rumored targets thus far, who would you most like the Pirates to sign?
Aaron Cook: 45%
Nate McLouth: 18%
Mark DeRosa: 27%
Kevin Kouzmanoff: 9%
Michael Sanserino: They are looking for a veteran, perhaps that veteran's last contract, who can do a few things. One, provide some stability should Pedro falter. Two, motivate Pedro. And three, teach him. It will not be a high-dollar signing, and it will not be someone who will be upset if he does not see lots of playing time. Mark DeRosa has been tossed around, but he might be a bit pricey.
roninbuc: Do you really think DLee can do better than the $7 mil + he would get from the Bucs in arb in the open market? It was about he $$ last year when he signed with BLT, and he already has a ring so did he really not like his experience in the Burgh that he hasn't committed yet?
Bill Brink: Lee can get at least $7 million elsewhere, and for someone his age he probably wants to go to a contender.
Michael Sanserino: I think he could command more -- especially coming off a superb, but abbreviated, end of last season. When Pujols and Fielder sign, some team is bound to panic that they don't have a first baseman. And Lee seems like a solid, one-year option.
Bucco Fan: Will there be any young pitching prospects to get called up or have an opportunity to make an impact? Without Maholm and the struggles we had after the all star break concern me at the mound
Michael Sanserino: Jeff Locke is the best candidate. But as we saw in September, he still has more work to do before he is ready to pitch consistently at the major league level. If the season started today, Brad Lincoln would be in the rotation. And he was somewhat successful as a late-season fill-in. Other than those two, it's a bit too early for some of these pitchers. Kyle McPherson could be a September call-up. The rest of the young talent is still a couple seasons away.
Lee the Foo: Does Pedro have any options left?
Bill Brink: No, he used them all up from 2009-11. He'll have to stay on the major league roster this season.
roninbuc: Now the Capuano is off the market, does the Jeff Francis interest make sense to get a LHP in the rotation? What are you hearing about any offers Maholm is getting?
Michael Sanserino: The interest in Jeff Francis would make sense, but he has enough interest that could drive his price up. That said, the last we heard from our sources, any report about the Pirates' interest in Francis is inaccurate. But it is the Winter Meetings, and things can change quickly. As for Maholm, all is quiet. The Pirates could re-sign him at a discount if his market fails to develop.
Guest: With all the buzz over closers why not sell high on Hanrahan
Bill Brink: May never be a better time. With the money Jonathan Papelbon just got, closers are at a premium. Add to that the fact that the teams in the market for closers are contenders, who are usually willing to part with top-level prospects to win right this instant, moving Hanrahan, either now or at the trade deadline, makes sense before he gets too expensive in arbitration.
Michael Sanserino: Playing Devil's Advocate here, but there are a few reasons to hang on to him. First, the market was stocked with closers this season -- so much so that Kansas City signed one and turned him into a setup guy. I don't think the market has peaked for closers yet. The Pirates could find a panicked team near the deadline this year and deal him for even more. Or, potentially, hang on to him until next season. There is a lot of risk in that thinking -- what if he gets hurt, what if the market changes -- but the reward could be far greater.
roninbuc: Do you think McLouthVersion 2.0 a good idea to hedge against injuries/bad performances for Pressley/Tabata?
Bill Brink: Huntington indicated that they are interested in hedging against injuries this season, and someone like McLouth -- looking for a rebound year, providing insurance -- would fit that description.
Michael Sanserino: It is an interesting idea. Huntington shied from really praising Alex Presley yesterday, saying he showed some "interesting things." Whether McLouth is the right guy to fill that role is a debate I will leave to those who get paid to opine.
JAL: Any reason we see no rumors linking Maholm to any teams? Have Pirates shown any interest in signing him or has that ship sailed.
Bill Brink: It is interesting considering his lack of an injury history and his ability to eat innings, but a pitcher who went 6-14 before finishing on the DL because of a shoulder issue will not attract much attention this early in the offseason, with Buehrle, Wilson, Jackson, etc. still out there. The sense we get from people here is that once the higher-priced players settle, the market for the lower tiers will settle as well and you will see more Maholm-esque players get interest.
Booker966: How are the negotiations truly going with Cutch. If they are nowhere close why not deal him?
Michael Sanserino: Not so hot. I don't think the Pirates can re-sign him. McCutchen seems certain his value will continue to increase as the years go on (and if he keeps trending upward, why wouldn't it?), though his late-season struggles remind everyone there is risk in turning down a long-term contract. As for trading him, the Pirates probably will eventually trade him if they know they can't re-sign him. But why do it now? He won't be arbitration eligible until after next season. And he is under team control until 2016. That's four more years of McCutchen in center field. It is too early to send him off, especially considering Josh Bell and Starling Marte are not quite ready for the majors.
atkpitt12: Will Clint barmes be an adequate replacement for cedeno?
Bill Brink: Yes. Barmes plays better defense on the whole than Cedeno did, even though Cedeno at times played a phenomenal shortstop last season. You will see none of the ill-advised sacrifice bunts or bad strikeouts like you did with Cedeno and you will get more power and on-base percentage out of the position.
Hunter: Do the Pirates really plan to go with internal options or is it more likely that once the big time free agents sign more trade partners could be out there? Teams like Florida, Washington, or Seattle would appear to have an excess of 1st baseman if any signed one of the big names.
Bill Brink: As the free agent situation becomes more fluid, you could see trades down the road. Huntington alluded to the fact that the first base market won't solidify until Pujols and Fielder sign, so once teams know what's left and what they will cost they can be more aggressive with their pursuits. Say Miami lands Pujols. Where does Gaby Sanchez go? Does he go somewhere and make another first baseman available? If Fielder goes to the Dodgers, where does James Loney go? It could very well become clearer later on in the offseason.
Bill Brink: Meant to say as the free agent situation becomes LESS fluid. Not enough tea this morning.
Michael Sanserino: Sure, Bill. Blame it on the lack of tea.
roninbuc: How much input/influence has Hurdle had so far with roster additions? I would assume he has more than Russell did with all the ex-Rockies being linked to Pirates, or is that just an easy match for rumors?
Michael Sanserino: We will know more today when we meet with Skip himself, but it seems like he has considerable influence. He is an active and vocal member in these war room meetings -- as he has been since he was hired. The team's interest in former Rockies is more than coincidence. Not much more, but a bit more. Couldn't really say how much more pull he has than JR.
Hunter: Odds D-Lee actually goes to arbitration? Any chances he has already told the Pirates to move on if he isn't planning on it?
Michael Sanserino: 5 percent. Huntington seems pretty confident Lee will wait until Pujols and Fielder land before Lee realizes his market.
Bill Brink: I say unlikely as well. He'll wait to see what the market will give him after the two big guys get paid.
Mike from Downtown: Neil Walker has shown the ability to learn a new position throughout his career. Does he hit well enough to move him to 1B and plug Mercer, D'Arnaud or a FA in at 2B?
Bill Brink: Walker currently provides above-average offensive production in terms of NL second basemen. You have a solid fielder and a decent average hitter with a little pop. If you move him, he'll be a below-average offensive player at whatever position you put him in. They will in all likelihood keep him at second.
Bobby hill: Do you have any inside info on who he pirates plan on tendering by the deadline? Specifically Gerrit Jones?
Michael Sanserino: As of now, Garrett Jones projects to play a prominent role in the Pirates' short-term future. I would be shocked if he were non-tendered. I also expect: Hanrahan, Meek, Morton, Karstens, to be tendered. Veras is a possibility, given his durability. I don't expect them to tender: Ohlendorf, Grilli or Resop.
Bobby hill: Any word on where tony Sanchez will start ? Also are thy planning on using Morris and Justin Wilson as starters or relievers?
Bill Brink: Sanchez will most likely start in Altoona given his struggles last season. They will probably add more minor league free agent pitchers, so until spring training it will be difficult to see who they use where. They also switch it around early, like they did with Michael Colla last year.
Guest: As We have seen if the Pirates are playing good ball and winning ,the Fans will come to the games, with a need at first base why not sign a pujols or fielder ,? will Bob Nutting EVER pay one of those huge contracts?
Michael Sanserino: Ask Tom Hicks, who signed Alex Rodriguez to the biggest contract, at the time, in MLB history. Not only did the Rangers continue to be a terrible team, Hicks filed for bankruptcy. I think gripes about the Pirates' lack of payroll spending are legitimate. But signing a guy like Pujols, who is 31, to a 10-year deal worth more than $25 million per would guarantee 10 more losing seasons for the Pirates. They would be better spent spreading that $25 million like peanut butter. Or, my favorite, apple butter.
roninbuc: How big will a healthy Meek (and back to All-Star performance levels) determine whether Veras, Grilli, and Resop are retained?
Bill Brink: They have to go off of the end of last season with Meek's health. He's shown what he can do as an eighth-inning guy, but they won't know if he can return to that level before next Monday when they have to tender the contracts. I think they'll use Meek's projected numbers as a benchmark in comparison to what they project for Veras, Grilli and Resop.
Hunter: Do the Pirates start the year with Harrison or d'Arnaud on the MLB roster or do they think one or both have enough long-term potential that they start the year in Indy to get more AB's and plug in a veteran utility player in Pittsburgh?
Bill Brink: I think Harrison, who worked out at short in the instructional league to improve his versatility, will make the roster while d'Arnaud will take some more time in Indianapolis. He's got great physical skills but needs to improve on offense and defense, and he won't get much playing time behind Barmes. He needs to play.
Guest: what are the chances the pirates sign one or both of Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada, and if they would sign, do they go into the rotation right away?
Michael Sanserino: Not likely. Similar to Cespedes, interest is high. That means price will be high, too.
jayhawk67: Do you think the Pirates can play around 500 this year?
Michael Sanserino: No.
Bill Brink: Not with their current rotation, no.
Michael Sanserino: I wouldn't be surprised if they lose more than 90 games next season.
Guest: can Cole start at altoona next season
Hunter: Any word where Cole will start the year? Seems like he proved enough in Arizona to merit Altoona but the current management group's track record would suggest Bradenton.
Bill Brink: I think he could start in Altoona but they will probably start him in Bradenton, with a flight to Altoona on standby if he breezes through his first six starts.
Michael Sanserino: Bradenton. Front office has always been a bit conservative in that regard.
Michael Sanserino: By the way, the White Sox and Blue Jays just completed a trade. RHP Sergio Santos to Toronto for RHP Nester Molina.
Bill Brink: That's it from Dallas, Mike and I are heading back to work. Thanks for the participation, and make sure to come by the blog later for updates from Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington.
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