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Breaking down the Pirates' needs entering winter meetings

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer throws out the Cubs' Donnie Murphy from deep in the hole during the sixth inning Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, at PNC Park.
Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz walks back to position after leaping head-first over the wall trying to catch a homer by Boston Red Sox's Mike Carp in the fifth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Tuesday, June 4, 2013. A person familiar with the case tells The Associated Press Tuesday June 4, 2013 that the founder of a Miami anti-aging clinic has agreed to talk to Major League Baseball about players linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera are among the players whose names have been tied to the clinic. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Things will be a bit different this year for Pirates general manager Neal Huntington when he heads to baseball's annual winter meetings, which run Monday through Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1992, the Pirates aren't in rebuilding mode anymore. Now they must keep pace with — and find ways to surpass — teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, who met in this year's World Series.

A look at the Pirates' winter meetings shopping list, in order of importance:

First baseman

Situation: The team cut ties with Garrett Jones, leaving Gaby Sanchez without a platoon partner. Sanchez hit .254 with a .361 on-base percentage and .402 slugging percentage last season, but was only .204/.304/.315 against right-handed pitchers.

Options: The best fit on the free-agent market might be James Loney. A lefty hitter, Loney batted .299/.348/.778 overall and did equally well against left- and right-handers. He made $2 million last season with the Tampa Bay Rays but is in line for a hefty raise. Would the Pirates be willing to do, say, three years/$21 million? ... Free agent Michael Morse struggled with the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles last season, which might lead to a value price for a guy who slugged 31 home runs in 2011. ... When Prince Fielder was dealt to the Texas Rangers, Mitch Moreland began popping up in trade rumors. He hit for a better average against lefties but showed more power against righties. ... The Los Angeles Angels dangled Mark Trumbo at the trade deadline in July and might do so again. But after dealing Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals last month, the Angels probably will hesitate to move another position player. ... If all else fails, the Pirates could try to re-sign Jones at a bargain rate.

Shortstop

Situation: Jordy Mercer has a bit of pop in his bat, but his glove work is merely mediocre. Clint Barmes rode out his two-year, $10.5 million contract and became a free agent.

Options: Slim pickings as far as free agents. Although Barmes didn't hit enough to keep his starting job, his defense remains sharp. He won't get another eight-digit payday, but Barmes' affection for the Pirates and manager Clint Hurdle could help lure him back in a reduced role at a lower rate. ... Stephen Drew is the best player on the market, but it could take an offer along the lines of three years/$36 million to get him. That's out of the Pirates' price range.

Starting pitcher

Situation: The Pirates have depth here, but Huntington wisely always is on the lookout for more. A.J. Burnett has left the club hanging — will he or won't he retire? — for nearly two months, and it's time to move on.

Options: The free agent market already is percolating, and the prices are trending high. The Pirates checked in with Bronson Arroyo, who at age 36 still can be a reliable innings eater. Arroyo's 1.55 walks-per-nine-innings rate was a career-low, and his 1.15 walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) was his second-best. ... Scott Feldman is a solid albeit unspectacular right-hander. Drawback: He is said to be seeking a three-year deal. ... Jason Hammel pitched for the Orioles last season but was better on the road (4.30 ERA) than at Camden Yards (5.93 ERA). He missed six weeks because of a forearm strain. ... Bartolo Colon is 41 years old, but his ERA and WHIP have dropped in each of the past two seasons. His past PED suspension and rotund physique are red flags. But the Pirates might be willing to risk a one-year contract. ... If Huntington really wanted to shake up the meetings, he would work a swap for David Price. Don't hold your breath. A couple of high prospects would be the starting point in talks for the Rays to trade their ace left-hander.

Right fielder

Situation: The Pirates have bodies at this spot, so it's not a top priority, but it still could use an upgrade. Travis Snider hasn't hit much and is rarely healthy. Jose Tabata hasn't tapped his potential. Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo are unproven.

Options: The Pirates tried to pry Jason Kubel from the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline in 2011. They can get him now by being the highest bidder. A quadriceps injury held Kubel to 97 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians, and he hit a combined .216/.293/.317. ... After serving a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, Nelson Cruz is a bit of wild card. With the Rangers this past season, he hit .266/.327/.506 and made $10.5 million. ... Looking to buy low? Well, there is Jeff Francoeur, who went a combined .204/.238/.298 with the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. ... If all else fails, the Pirates could ride it out with Snider/Tabata/Decker for a couple of months then call up top prospect Gregory Polanco and see what happens.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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