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Pirates leave Vegas with Wilson in tow

Bucs leave Vegas with Wilson in tow

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LAS VEGAS -- Despite the glitz and glamour of the setting, it was a relatively quiet week for the Pirates at this year's Winter Meetings, though they are by no means the only club for which that is true.

General manager Neal Huntington made one deal, albeit a minor one, and is on the verge of closing one free agent signing. However, the biggest news out of Las Vegas has to be the deal that never went down.

Coming into the week, the Pirates were expected to field offers for shortstop Jack Wilson. Through all of Huntington's denials that the Pirates were not necessarily trying to move anyone, it was clear that Wilson was seen as the expendable piece on the current roster.

However, after four days of meetings with other clubs, the Pirates appear further away from dealing Wilson than they did when management arrived on Sunday. The Tigers filled their shortstop void early in the week, while news on Thursday that the Twins re-signed Nick Punto eliminates Minnesota's shortstop need. The Dodgers have moved on to other options because of the Pirates' asking price.

That's not to say that another suitor couldn't emerge in the next two months. But for the time being, Wilson is not on the top of any other team's wish list.

"As I sit here right now, Jack Wilson is our shortstop for the '09 season," Huntington said. "That's not a bad thing. Jack Wilson is loved by the fans and is fun to watch on defense, and a healthy Jack Wilson will be a productive Jack Wilson."

In addition to canvassing for interest on Wilson, Huntington also spent much of the week fielding offers for the team's young core -- Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit and Matt Capps -- though the Pirates' demands for their top young talent was too high for any serious offers to be entertained.

The team's desire to build around that group of players was confirmed this week with news that the Pirates have approached Maholm, McLouth and Doumit concerning potential multi-year deals. All three are arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and the Pirates have made it a priority to use long-term deals to buy out arbitration years when beneficial.

The fruits of Huntington's work at this year's Winter Meetings will surely be realized in the coming weeks. He alluded to certain free agent talks progressing, with one being the likely signing of infielder Ramon Vazquez.

"Some of the conversations that we felt were moving in a positive direction have kind of halted," Huntington said. "Some of the conversations where we thought we were on the outside looking in have moved forward. The reality is we're at a position where we may try to get something done quickly, but we know we're not alone on the players."

It was confirmed this week that the Pirates have approached both Vazquez and middle infielder David Eckstein about their interest in signing with Pittsburgh. While no negotiations were made with Eckstein, the Pirates do appear close to nailing down a deal with Vazquez, a belief that was confirmed on Thursday by Vazquez's agent, Melvin Roman.

"We're working through some things with Ramon as we are with other free agents and we're optimistic," Huntington said.

Reaching a deal with Vazquez would take Eckstein out of the equation for the Pirates.

The Pirates brass departed Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon hopeful that the groundwork laid will be enough for the club to address its most pressing needs -- a right-handed power bat, a veteran starter and bench help -- in the coming weeks.

Deals done: The Pirates leave Vegas with one trade to their name. Pittsburgh swapped catchers with the Phillies in a low-profile trade late Wednesday afternoon. In the deal, the Pirates acquired Triple-A backstop Jason Jaramillo in exchange for Ronny Paulino. The Pirates received several inquiries regarding Paulino, but were pleased with Philadelphia's offer of Jaramillo. Though Jaramillo has no previous Major League experience, he will be competing with Robinzon Diaz to be the team's backup catcher in 2009.

Additionally, the Pirates signed right-hander Brian Slocum and outfielder Yohan Silva to Minor League contracts this week. Slocum will be invited to the Pirates' Major League Spring Training camp in Bradenton, Fla.

Rule 5 activity: The Pirates selected left-hander Donnie Veal in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The club also took three players -- left-hander Andres Santos and right-handers Rafael Quintero and Gerardo Esparza -- in the Minor League portion of the Draft. Veal, 24, is a big-framed, power arm whose has recent history of control problems the Pirates are hopeful of fixing. He will try to make the Major League club as a reliever out of Spring Training.

Goals accomplished: If the Pirates do finalize a deal with Vazquez, that would give the club a solid backup middle infielder and the first piece on their rebuilt bench. Vazquez would also give the Pirates a middle-infield replacement should either Wilson or Freddy Sanchez be traded before the team heads to camp in February.

Unfinished business: There is no tangible evidence that the Pirates addressed their most glaring areas of need this week, though Huntington is confident that the path has been laid for more finalization in those areas to come soon. The club continues to pursue a right-handed power bat, a veteran starter and some bench help as their primary targets. This week, Huntington also added a backup corner infielder to his list of needs.

GM's bottom line: "[Our goal is] getting better. I hate to be vague, but everything we do is to get better. If that meant we walked out of here having laid the groundwork for some conversations, having eliminated some potential areas that we thought might work, then that's sufficient." -- Huntington

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

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