Quiet offseason likely looms for Pirates

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011


The Pirates will have plenty of roster holes to fill this offseason, but they're not likely to come up with any high-impact solutions in the free-agent market.

Eligible players who do not have contract options for 2012 became free agents overnight. All club, player and mutual contract options must be decided by 11:59 p.m. Monday. Free agents can begin signing with teams at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington's shopping list will be affected by which contract options, if any, the team picks up. The pricey options of Ryan Doumit ($7.25 million for 2012 and $8.25 million for 2013) and Chris Snyder ($6.75 million) will not be exercised, which would seem to make finding a catcher Huntington's top priority.

The free-agent pool is "very, very thin," Huntington has said. The Pirates might target Ramon Hernandez, Rod Barajas or Jason Varitek as a short-term solution. Each is experienced, but age (Hernandez and Barajas are 36, and Varitek turns 40 in April) and durability (none of them played more than 98 games last season) are problematic. Gerald Laird and Brian Schneider will be available, but they are on the downside of their careers.

Last summer, the Pirates mulled a trade that would have sent pitcher Brad Lincoln to the New York Yankees for catcher Francisco Cervelli. The Yankees still are willing to deal Cervelli, who has a history of concussions. But the Pirates might not have enough pitching to swing a deal -- even if they change their minds and pick up Paul Maholm's $9.75 million option.

If Maholm departs and Charlie Morton is slow to recover from hip surgery, there will be two empty rotation spots. Two free agents the Pirates looked at last winter, Jeff Francis and Chris Young, will be on the market again. Erik Bedard, Edwin Jackson and Jason Marquis also could be possibilities.

First base also is a need. Derrek Lee is a free agent and hasn't shown that he wants to return as much as management would like to have him back. Steve Pearce and Garrett Jones are arbitration-eligible, but their Super Two status -- which gives them an extra year of arbitration -- makes it likely they will be non-tendered.

Prospect Matt Hague will get a chance to win the job in spring training, but the Pirates also will eye a more experienced first baseman in free agency or through a trade. Forget about Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and probably Michael Cuddyer -- too expensive. The Pirates' final payroll in 2011 was $52.3 million and probably won't go up next year.

That means the Pirates will sort through second- and third-tier free agents and might be caught in a scrum after the Pujols and Fielder deals are done.

On the Pirates' shopping list:


Ramon Hernandez, Reds: Hit .282 in 91 games

Rod Barajas, Dodgers: 13-year vet played 98 games

Jason Varitek, Red Sox: Might be lured by playing time

Gerald Laird, Cardinals: Backup turns 32 in two weeks

First basemen

Casey Kotchman, Rays: Hit .306 with 10 HR

Derrek Lee, Pirates: Team is interested; is he?

Carlos Pena, Cubs: Reliable power source hit 28 homers

Michael Cuddyer, Twins: Would require at least 3 years, $30 million

Josh Willingham, Athletics: Could switch from OF

Brad Hawpe, Padres: Power is down; defense is so-so

Starting pitchers

Edwin Jackson, Cardinals: Matured in past three seasons

Chris Young, Mets: Major injury risk

Jeff Francis, Royals: 6-16, 4.82 ERA; fared better in NL

Jason Marquis, Diamondbacks: Decent rebound from awful 2010

Additional Information:

Decisions, decisions

The Pirates must decide by 11:59 p.m. Monday whether to pick up the contract options of four players:

• SS Ronny Cedeno: $3 million for 2012 or $200,000 buyout

• C Ryan Doumit: $7.25 million for 2012 and $8.25 million for 2013 or $500,000 buyout

• LHP Paul Maholm: $9.75 million for 2012 or $750,000 buyout

• C Chris Snyder: $6.75 million for 2012 or $750,000 buyout

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