Bucs stick to wait-and-see approach
GM Huntington uses Meetings to set groundwork for future
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington approached this week's Winter Meetings with a wait-and-see attitude. Wait for teams to approach him, and see what offers would be made.
Huntington followed that mantra throughout the four days of meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, gauging interest in a variety of his players, yet deciding not to rush into making a trade simply for the sake of doing so.
As is typically the case, the Pirates were at the center of various rumors, none of which, however, solidified into anything substantial. Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Damaso Marte and John Grabow were the most prominent targets during the week, with Huntington estimating that he talked to a half-dozen teams regarding potential trades.
But while nothing was complete, the groundwork for potential moves later in the coming months was laid.
It was a year ago that talks of landing Adam LaRoche began at the Winter Meetings, only to come to fruition one month later. There is reason to believe that the Pirates will find themselves on a similar path over the next two months, with an eventual trade likely to still be made.
"Overall, I don't know how the offseason is going to pan out other than to say that we would like to get better," Huntington said. "We would like to make some baseball trades that not only helps the '08 club, but helps the '09, '10' and '11 club."
As is the case in a bidding war, the Pirates started discussions in Nashville by asking high, particularly asking high in terms of young prospects. How negotiations will continue and what the Pirates will be willing to accept remains to be seen. However, Huntington has expressed a willingness to continue any and all of the discussions that he has already begun.
The early trade winds blew around the names of Bay and McLouth most prominently, but it appears that left-handed relievers Marte and Grabow continue to garner the most interest as general managers head back to their respective cities. As a result, it would appear that the two lefties are the most likely targets moving forward.
"We certainly don't have to do anything that doesn't make sense to us," Huntington continued. "I don't feel pressed for us to have to make an artificial trade. If there is something that can help us long term or short term, we'll absolutely explore it, whether it's a big deal or a small deal."
Though Bay proved to be the Pirates' biggest trading piece in Nashville, there is reason to believe that the Pirates are content in holding on to the left fielder to begin the season. There is a hope that a resurgence by Bay in 2008 will offset an injury-plagued and disappointing 2007 season, which consequently decreased his trade value.
"[If players] go out and they perform to their true expectations, to their abilities, their value should absolutely go up," Huntington assessed. "I think that's where we've tried to set the values of where we think they need to be to make a good baseball trade for us."
Furthermore, the decision to keep Bay, to this point at least, reflects the organization's desire to not only build up talent for the future, but also to field a competitive team in the short term. And with the luxury of not having any pressing holes to fill, the Pirates are able to use the wait-and-see approach to their advantage, with the goal being to maximize return at the optimal time.
The Pirates were busy on other fronts, however, making two waiver claims, grabbing young talent in the Rule 5 Draft and progressing close to finalizing a deal with free agent Chris Gomez. As a result, the club has continued to infuse pitching depth into its system and has solidified its infield with two capable backups.
The ultimate assessment of Huntington's work in his first Winter Meetings as the Pirates GM, however, will become clearer as the offseason progresses.
Deals done: Other than a continuation of various discussions with other teams, the only notable activity by the Pirates this week came from two waiver wire claims. Pittsburgh claimed infielder Josh Wilson and right-hander Ty Taubenheim off waivers, increasing the team's waiver claims this offseason to five.
Rule 5 activity: The Pirates used the benefit of having the second overall selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft to take right-hander Evan Meek, a relief pitcher from Tampa Bay. The Pirates also selected four other pitchers during the Minor League phases of the Draft -- right-handers Josh Hill, Mauricio Mendez, Rafael Cruz Chavez and lefty Corey Hamman -- in hopes of jump-starting the organization's retooling of its farm system pitching depth.
Goals accomplished: The addition of Wilson begins to address the Pirates' dire need to add infield depth before the start of the season, while Taubenheim will give Pittsburgh another spot starter option. It is also unclear whether or not any trade talks during the week will mold into anything substantial over the next two months to address the Pirates' goal of attaining young talent to restock the farm system.
Unfinished business: According to agent Alan Meersand, the Pirates and free-agent veteran infielder Chris Gomez have agreed to terms on a one-year deal, with a physical appearing to be the only loophole left before the contract is official. The Pirates will now continue to focus on finding another reliable arm or two for the bullpen, especially considering the likelihood of the team shipping off one of its veteran relievers later this offseason. Acquiring depth at any position, both at the Major League and Minor League level, will also remain one of Huntington's goals.
GM's bottom line: "I think in every trade you are trying to balance the present and the future. It is a constant decision, even as you are looking at a second player in a trade, the primary person in a trade or a third person in a trade. It's always a balancing act between the present and the future." -- Huntington
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.