5 things Bucs can learn from early Hot Stove action

5 things Bucs can learn from early Hot Stove action

PITTSBURGH -- With the General Managers Meetings over and qualifying offers made, the offseason wheeling and dealing is about to ramp up.

There have already been a handful of transactions around Major League Baseball, plus the usual rumors. The Pirates are still searching for a starter, someone to solidify a young rotation. What can they learn from what's transpired thus far?

1) Price check
Free-agent pitching won't be cheap, especially not in a thin market.

The Pirates realized that last offseason, when J.A. Happ signed a three-year, $36 million contract with Toronto following a strong half-season in Pittsburgh. It set the tone for a market that "blew up," as Pirates GM Neal Huntington put it, even for bounce-back candidates.

• Hot Stove Tracker

The Braves may have established the market last week. Atlanta signed knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (10-15, 4.46 ERA in 2016) for a guaranteed $8 million and reportedly inked 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (15-8, 3.43 ERA) to a $12.5 million deal. Those deals were for one year and came early, two factors that typically drive up prices.

Still, Atlanta proved veteran pitching comes with a price tag that's relatively high, even as clubs try to buy low.

Huntington on Pirates' plans

"You never have enough good pitching. Teams that have some money to take some chances are more willing to do that," Huntington said last week. "It makes it tougher for us to do that."

2) Reclamation destination
One thing working in the Pirates' favor? Their reputation as a pitcher rehab clinic. The work of Ray Searage and Co. has not gone unnoticed, creating an advantage that might counteract their limited spending ability.

"We've made other guys a lot of money over the last handful of years," Huntington said. "Some guys are still interested in coming in and finding out what we do."

The agent for left-hander Derek Holland told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the Pirates are on Holland's "short list." That's good news even if they aren't interested in Holland, who posted a 4.93 ERA over the last two years in Texas, because others likely feel the same way.

Pirates on Nova's free agency

3) Super Nova
Greg Genske, Ivan Nova's agent, said on MLB Network Radio they've received offers in the "area" of Happ's deal. That price range isn't out of the question -- the Pirates gave Francisco Liriano three years and $39 million in December 2014 -- though it's unclear if they'll go there for Nova, who said he'd like to return, if possible.

But it's still early. Nova's market could expand significantly as the offseason rolls on, lessening the odds he'll be back in Pittsburgh.

"We wanted to bring Nova back and have tried -- unsuccessfully, to this point," Huntington said. "We'll see how things transition as the market opens up."

4) Trade season
It's an economic reality that trade talk will heat up in a lean free-agent market. But with Chris Sale and Justin Verlander reportedly available and the Rays dangling some strong young arms, this could be a particularly active offseason.

There's a domino effect that could benefit the Bucs. First, teams that satisfy their rotation need via trades are less likely to do so through free agency. Also, clubs looking to move other pitchers may lower their asking prices to increase the likelihood of completing a deal.

5) Grow your own
The best way to avoid this Hot Stove intrigue? Draft, acquire and develop pitching. The risks of youth include inexperience and limited innings, but the Pirates are fortunate to have a stable of young arms to lean on going forward.

"The importance of developing your own pitchers has never been higher," Huntington said. "We love our young pitchers. If we can add to them, and something makes sense, we'll look to do that."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.