Bucs' slow offseason may speed up at Meetings

Bucs' slow offseason may speed up at Meetings

PITTSBURGH -- It has been a quiet offseason for the Pirates, with two months of rumors but little action. But that could change next week at the Winter Meetings.

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. ET.

Hot Stove Tracker

In what direction will the Pirates go from here? That remains to be seen. The Bucs are determined to get back to the postseason in 2017, but that path could take them a number of different ways this offseason. They may sign a veteran starter or gamble on another reclamation project. They could trade prospects or position players for proven pitching. They could be persuaded to deal Andrew McCutchen, the face of the franchise.

Bucs look for rotation help

The Pirates have added three players to their roster and sent five into free agency, their only notable Major League transactions this offseason. So the Bucs have work to do, and the gathering of all 30 front offices and scores of player agents should prompt more action in the Hot Stove market next week.

First, Pittsburgh must fill the hole in its rotation. That may not happen in National Harbor, Md., but it is an ideal place to further evaluate the market and talk trades. The Pirates also will continue to evaluate their options for McCutchen, who is available for the right offer but is not being aggressively shopped.

The Pirates' Major League payroll will likely be around $100 million on Opening Day, approximately the same as last season. If they don't remove a significant salary -- like McCutchen's $14 million -- they have room to add about $12 million.

General manager Neal Huntington and his staff will once again search for hidden value in free agency, but given the thin crop of starters available, it's more likely the Pirates will fill their biggest need through a trade.

"It's more necessity than availability," Huntington said. "In this environment, you might see more teams inclined to look to see what a trade will cost. With the shallowness of the free-agent market, your trade acquisitions are going to be increased as well."

Last year, the Bucs traded Neil Walker to fill a need, but the deal for Jonathon Niese backfired, as he pitched his way out of Pittsburgh's rotation while Walker hit 23 homers for the Mets.

Of the Pirates' free agents, only Sean Rodriguez has signed elsewhere, agreeing to a two-year deal with the Braves. Pittsburgh negotiated during the season to extend two others -- starter Ivan Nova and reliever Neftali Feliz -- and both remain available. Nova is one of the top available starters, so he may be priced out of the Bucs' range, given the demand for pitching. Nova repeatedly stressed his desire to return, however, so the Pirates should be considered in on Nova until they are officially ruled out.

"We'll see how things transition as the market opens up. In a vacuum, sure, we'd love to have a veteran arm," Huntington said. "It needs to be the right veteran that we believe is better than what we have and can help us win games and eat those innings."

There are several experienced free-agent relievers available if the Pirates can't re-sign Feliz. Huntington has also mentioned the possibility of acquiring another setup-type reliever through a trade.

The Pirates have plenty of options in front of them. Which path they'll choose should become clearer at the Winter Meetings.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.