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Pirates notebook: Trade winds swirl as Winter Meetings begin

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 9:04 p.m.
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Garrett Jones is among the players whose name has arisen concerning trade rumors. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Pirates signed catcher Russell Martin to the richest free-agent deal in franchise history three days before the winter meetings began. So maybe it's no surprise the team didn't make much noise on the first day of baseball's annual confab.

“In our minds, we've already made our big move with Russ,” general manager Neal Huntington said Monday. “That doesn't mean there's not other big moves coming. (Martin's deal) is going to allow us to be patient and see how things play out. Do we have areas to upgrade? Absolutely. But we've already handled our biggest need coming into the winter meetings.”

Martin agreed to a two-year, $17 million contract, filling the biggest hole on the roster. But the Pirates still need a starting pitcher — preferably a left-hander — and bullpen help.

Huntington also is willing to explore improvements at shortstop and first base. Shortstop Clint Barmes was an offensive disappointment and will be a free agent after 2013. On Monday, Huntington said Garrett Jones — who has drawn trade interest from a handful of teams — and Gaby Sanchez will platoon at first base.

The Dodgers are listening to offers for shortstop Dee Gordon, a speedy, defensively adept 24-year-old. But Gordon will command a significant return, and the Pirates seem to have prospects Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia, Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson on an ironclad no-trade list.

With his top prospects cemented in the system, Huntington will scour a thin free-agent market and mull trades involving some of his major leaguers.

The non-tender deadline was Friday, which put 40 more free agents on the market. Of those, the Pirates have shown interest in five pitchers: lefties Manny Parra, John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny, and righties Jair Jurrjens and Mike Pelfrey.

“If our five best starters are all right-handed, we're OK with that,” Huntington said. “In a perfect world, you'd love some balance. But it's all about getting the five guys you feel best about, and then six, seven and eight.”

Jones has sparked interest from the Mariners, Orioles (who have since cooled on the idea) and Astros. But the Pirate most often mentioned in trade rumors is closer Joel Hanrahan; the Pirates started offering him to other teams weeks ago.

“Probably last summer was when Joel's value was the highest that it was going to be,” Huntington said. “It's awfully tough to trade your closer then. It's awfully tough to trade your closer now. We're in a situation where, if we entertain trading any of our players, it's got to make sense for us short-term and long-term. If it makes sense, we'll do something. If it doesn't, we're good.”

If they deal Hanrahan, the Pirates would move quickly to try to re-sign free agent Jason Grilli as their new closer. Huntington said the Pirates have “remained engaged” in talks with Grilli's agent.

No rush to call up Cole

When asked if Cole, the top draft pick in 2011, has a chance to begin the season in the Pirates' rotation, Huntington paused.

“That's a tough question,” Huntington said. “Gerrit just finished his first full professional season, and we couldn't be more pleased with his growth and his development. We're going to do everything in our power to put him in a position to be successful.

“There are some guys who are flying through systems and being successful. There's a lot of guys who have flown through systems and you wonder whatever happened to them. Gerrit's an important piece of our future, so we've got to make sure we coordinate his development.”

Stand Up To Cancer auction

Three Pirates-themed items, including an autographed Bill Mazeroski replica statue, are part of the MLB's Stand Up To Cancer auction, organized by the league's public relations directors. Bids can be placed via mlb.com through 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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