Pirates general manager Huntington is searching for right player, deal

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington (right, with manager Clint Hurdle before Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 3, 2013.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington (right, with manager Clint Hurdle before Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 3, 2013.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Under general manager Neal Huntington, the Pirates have avoided long-term relationships with free agents. Someday, perhaps even soon, that could change.

Huntington has never given anything longer than a two-year offer to a free agent. But he said Tuesday that he came to MLB's annual winter meetings with an open mind about multiple-year contracts.

“It's just a matter of finding the right player and the right deal,” Huntington said.

The operative word is “deal.” Multi-year contracts are fine, so long as they fit into the Pirates' financial constraints. It's not an easy combination to find.

Earlier this week, there was mutual interest between the Pirates and pitcher Bronson Arroyo. However, Arroyo, who made $16.4 million this past season, reportedly is seeking a three-year contract and has fallen off the Pirates' radar.

Free-agent first baseman James Loney, who also piqued Huntington's interest, reportedly wants three years and around $30 million. Although Loney would fill the Pirates' top need, he's probably not in their plans at that price.

Loney is 29 years old and realizes this could be the final big contract of his career. Still, he might lower his demands the longer he sits on the market, which could put the Pirates back in play.

Ideally, the Pirates would like to uncover a full-time starter for first base. But they would settle for a left-handed batter to platoon with Gaby Sanchez.

“We're looking to put the best first base production together that we can,” Huntington said. “We have the luxury of Gaby, who absolutely annihilates left-handed pitching. We're just two years removed from him doing a nice job against right-handed pitching.”

As you'd expect from a lefty hitter, Loney's career stats are better when he faces right-handed pitchers. However, this past season his numbers were more similar against lefties (.299/.339/.390 in 154 at-bats) and righties (.299/.352/.446 in 395 at-bats).

Loney's superb glovework would be an asset to the Pirates, whose use of defensive shifts was a huge part of their success in 2013. Not only does Loney have great physical tools on the field, he is a savvy defender, too.

Garrett Jones was half of the Pirates' platoon last season, but he was cut earlier this month and Monday signed a free-agent deal with the Miami Marlins. Jones' arrival allows the Marlins to field trade offers for Logan Morrison.

The Pirates contacted the Marlins last week about Morrison, but a source said their interest was “mild.” It could heat up as their options dwindle.

In July, the Los Angeles Angels quietly fielded inquiries about Mark Trumbo. Although he looked to be a good fit for the Pirates, there was not enough traction to complete a deal.

Tuesday, Trumbo wound up with the Arizona Diamondbacks via a three-team trade that included the Chicago White Sox.

Kendrys Morales turned down a qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners, which means the Pirates would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him. That's not likely to happen, as high picks are more valuable than gold in the Pirates' value-minded approach.

If the Pirates come up empty this offseason, they would have only one choice at first base on Opening Day.

“I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with Gaby as our answer, (but) we're not,” Huntington said.

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

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