Bucs try to fill holes at Winter Meetings

Littlefield out to fill holes at Winter Meetings

PITTSBURGH -- While it's unlikely that the Pittsburgh Pirates will be involved in any blockbuster signings when the baseball world descends upon Orlando next week for the annual Winter Meetings, the four days general manager Dave Littlefield spends in the shadows of Magic Kingdom could go a long way toward helping him assemble the 2007 Bucs roster.

On the surface, it appears as though the Pirates have been mere casual observers thus far this offseason, watching from afar while division rivals Chicago and Houston forked over nine-figure contracts to superstars Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee.

Behind the scenes, however, Littlefield says that he has been active in setting the groundwork for moves that will help to bolster the middle of his lineup and his starting rotation.

"We've done some work during the latter part of the season and into the GM meetings," said Littlefield. "We have a pretty good idea of where people are at and where we match up with other teams for possible trades. We've had a lot of discussions with free agents."

Although the Pirates, who have approximately $13 million to spend on roster additions this year, won't be bidding for any big-ticket free agents, Littlefield believes there are still bargains to be had among the group of players who remain on the open market.

"As things go at this time, we're just not [going for] players in that Soriano or Carlos Lee type of market," said Littlefield. "But there will be good values out there for certain players and we'll hopefully get a hold of a couple of those, like we have in the past.

"We're aware of the going rates now for free agents. We'll keep tabs on where that goes and what fits for us."

Where the Pirates are planning to make their most significant moves is through trades. The Bucs' big-league roster is stocked with talented young pitchers, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. In dealing from this area of strength, the Pirates should be able to acquire the left-handed hitting first baseman or outfielder that they covet.

"We've been certainly looking more towards trades from the beginning," said Littlefield. "We've had lots of discussions with teams about that type of player. As to where it ends up, it's hard to say. We'll see where it goes. Those discussions will continue."

Faced with a similar need for a left-handed hitting first baseman last year at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, the Pirates acquired veteran first baseman Sean Casey from the Reds in exchange for southpaw Dave Williams. This time around, the Bucs would prefer to nab an impact hitter who is closer in age and experience to the core group of players that already comprises the majority of their big-league roster.

"As you look at our club, almost all of our players are under our [contractual] control for the next couple of years," said Littlefield. "We'd like to get a player who fits into that group. However, that isn't always the case and we'll make adjustments where necessary."

While the rising cost of doing business with free agents has kept the Pirates on the sidelines for the early stages of the Hot Stove season, Littlefield believes that the inflated free agent salaries could ultimately benefit the Pirates in their trade negotiations. Because Pittsburgh's young pitchers will be under contract for several seasons, and thus only earning a fraction of what free agents are demanding, they will be a more valuable commodity for teams that are looking to improve their pitching staffs without breaking the bank.

"It definitely will help for trade possibilities," Littlefield said. "That's how it works. You have to draft, sign and develop your own players. We do a good job of that. It's a very, very valuable asset."

With executives from every big-league team set to spend four days at the same hotel, the Winter Meetings could be just the time for the Pirates to cash in on their assets.

"I think it's very apparent that face-to-face contact is more conducive for getting deals done," said Littlefield. "It's a good setting at the Winter Meetings to do those.

"We'll see where the Winter Meetings go. But ultimately, the goal is to win more games in '07."

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.