PITTSBURGH -- So where do the Pirates go from here?
After a slow start to the offseason, general manager Neal Huntington swiftly checked off the top two items on Pittsburgh's to-do list. In came Daniel Hudson, a veteran right-handed setup man, then Ivan Nova re-signed to improve the Bucs' rotation after a remarkable two-month turnaround this past season.
What comes next? Even with two needs addressed and their projected 2017 payroll around $100 million, the Pirates still could go a number of different directions before they report to Pirate City for Spring Training next month. Here are a few possibilities to consider:
Hudson and Nova filled needs, but the Pirates could aim higher in their effort to return to the postseason in 2017. The Bucs have "worked hard" to acquire White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana, as first reported by ESPN's Buster Olney. Pittsburgh has the high-end talent and organizational depth to make such a move, and it could part with someone like top prospect Tyler Glasnow for a contractually controllable, top-of-the-rotation starter like Quintana.
"We like the group as is," Huntington said of Pittsburgh's rotation. "But if there's a way to improve it, we'll certainly be open to that as well if it makes sense in the big picture as well as the short term."
The rebuilding White Sox have all the leverage given Quintana's contract status, and he would come at a high price. Would Pittsburgh be willing to part with the necessary prospects? Such a move would be unprecedented for Huntington, but so would a rotation of Gerrit Cole, Quintana, Jameson Taillon, Nova and Chad Kuhl.
Round out the rotation
If they can't land Quintana, the Pirates could set their sights slightly lower and still add another starter. Among the most intriguing trade targets are the Rays' Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi. There are plenty of free agents with upside available, including right-hander Tyson Ross, lefty Brett Anderson and two former Cubs relievers who may look to start in 2017: Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill.
If the cost is too high for any of the above, the Bucs could simply elect to open with a rotation of Cole, Taillon and Nova along with Kuhl (not guaranteed but likely to win a spot) plus Glasnow, Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault or Trevor Williams.
"We have a really good team," Nova said. "If you want to add something, then OK, that's fine. But what we have here, I think, is enough to compete. We have a lot of young and talented players, a great pitching staff -- it's young, but a great pitching staff. We've just got to stay healthy and put it together."
Watson might yield the biggest return, but Bastardo would be the easiest to move. The Pirates like the veteran lefty, however -- particularly his willingness to pitch whenever asked and the way he improves a middle-relief group that was exposed too often early in 2016.
It's still unlikely Andrew McCutchen will be moved this offseason, maybe even more so now that most of the Pirates' roster is set. But perhaps another club will step up and offer to sell the farm for Pittsburgh's franchise player. The Bucs' stance has not changed: They are taking calls, not making them, and their asking price is understandably high.
So all eyes will remain on McCutchen -- until he shows up for Spring Training, until Opening Day, until the 2017 non-waiver Trade Deadline and so on until he's no longer a Pirate.
Trim and tweak
With their lineup ready, the bullpen patched up and a rotation competition set for Spring Training, the Pirates could focus around the edges of their roster. This worked last offseason with outfielder Matt Joyce (signed in late February) and infielder David Freese (signed in mid-March). A number of top free agents remain unsigned, which could leave some intriguing players looking for a home -- and discount deals -- come early February
This may not be the most exciting approach in terms of increasing the Pirates' postseason odds. But all along, they have stood to improve most from within through bounce-back seasons from McCutchen, Cole and Francisco Cervelli and healthy seasons from Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang.
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.