Bucs could find 'dance partner' at Winter Meetings

Although this offseason has been quiet compared to '14, Pirates have holes to fill

Bucs could find 'dance partner' at Winter Meetings

PITTSBURGH -- This time a year ago, the Pirates had already taken care of several important items on their offseason agenda. They signed A.J. Burnett and traded for Francisco Cervelli before the 2014 calendar even flipped to December. Within the following two weeks, they acquired Sean Rodriguez and signed Francisco Liriano.

This winter has been quiet by comparison thus far, full of speculation but only a few transactions. Why the different approach?

"We haven't found a dance partner," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. But where better to start dancing than baseball's annual Winter Meetings?

Executives from all 30 clubs, agents and media will gather next week at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., the center of the baseball universe for four days. Coming off a 98-win season, the Pirates have one glaring hole to address in their starting rotation and a few other areas to patch up, including the bullpen and possibly first base.

"We'd like to add to the club," Huntington said. "We really like our core. We really like the group of young players that are on the horizon. We're working to bridge the gap and shore up some soft spots that we have in the rotation and in the bullpen and then with the position players. Then we'll put ourselves in position to be a team that can win a division in 2016."

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. ET.

The Pirates must find a replacement in the rotation for J.A. Happ, who was initially acquired to replace the injured (and now retired) Burnett. They also need to fill out their bullpen, which lost right-handers Joakim Soria and Joe Blanton and lefty Antonio Bastardo to free agency.

They have already quietly added to their pitching depth through waiver claims, traded for another reclamation project in former top prospect Allen Webster and signed first baseman/corner outfielder Jake Goebbert.

"There's some early activity," Huntington said. "There's a lot of continuing dialogue on the free-agent and trade market. Some of it comes to fruition before the Winter Meetings. Some of it comes to fruition at the Winter Meetings. Some of it, as a matter of fact, never comes to fruition."

That's particularly true on the trade front, where the Pirates have been the subject of the kind of fast-flying rumors that occasionally become reality at the Winter Meetings. Much of that speculation focused on Pedro Alvarez, who was non-tendered Wednesday night, but it will now turn to two players entering their final year before free agency: second baseman Neil Walker and closer Mark Melancon.

Their climbing salaries would dominate a large portion of the Pirates' payroll, which figures to reach $100 million for the first time next season. Melancon and Walker could be in particularly high demand as offseason activity begins to pick up.

Last offseason, the Pirates didn't have to wait long to get what they wanted. This time around, will they find their dance partners in the Music City?

"There were a ton of conversations behind the scenes [last year] that didn't lead to anything -- much like now, there's a ton of conversations ongoing," Huntington said. "Sometimes you feel like things are imminent, and they're not. Sometimes you feel like things are dead, and they're not. It's all part of the process in the offseason."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.