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Early offseason decisions loom for Bucs

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- On the surface, the Pirates don't appear to have many moving pieces heading into the winter. They must make a few decisions, however, before free agency and trade rumors hit their peak during the Winter Meetings in early December.

None of those moves will take place until after the World Series, as non-playoff clubs tend to keep quiet during the postseason. But as soon as a champion is crowned, the Hot Stove activity will begin in earnest.

PITTSBURGH -- On the surface, the Pirates don't appear to have many moving pieces heading into the winter. They must make a few decisions, however, before free agency and trade rumors hit their peak during the Winter Meetings in early December.

None of those moves will take place until after the World Series, as non-playoff clubs tend to keep quiet during the postseason. But as soon as a champion is crowned, the Hot Stove activity will begin in earnest.

Here are a few things to look out for as the Pirates enter the offseason.

Options, options, options
As was the case last year, the Pirates' decision-making process will revolve around Andrew McCutchen. The first order of business is whether the team will pick up his $14.5 million contract option -- the franchise player's final year under club control -- a few days after the World Series ends.

They could pick up his option and still trade him, freeing up salary and potentially yielding a significant return, but that seems less likely given the uncertainty in their outfield caused by Starling Marte's suspension, Gregory Polanco's inconsistency and Austin Meadows' injuries.

McCutchen is not the only Pirate with a club option. Catcher Chris Stewart has a $1.5 million option with a $250,000 buyout. Left-hander Wade LeBlanc has a $1.25 million option with a $50,000 buyout.

Stewart, the 35-year-old veteran, took another step back offensively and hit .183 with a .463 OPS and four RBIs in 51 games. With rookie Elias Diaz out of Minor League options and ready to become Francisco Cervelli's full-time backup, the Pirates will likely pay Stewart's buyout and let him go.

LeBlanc, 33, had a solid year but seldom pitched down the stretch, even after returning from the disabled list in September. The lefty posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 68 innings over 50 appearances. The Pirates could find a way to bring back LeBlanc, but given their young bullpen options -- and the rotation depth that could be converted to relief help -- it seems more likely they will buy out LeBlanc's option.

That would leave the Pirates with four departing free agents: Stewart, LeBlanc, John Jaso and Joaquin Benoit.

To tender or not?
The "non-tender deadline," typically in early December, should be simple for the Pirates. They have four arbitration-eligible players, and it makes sense to retain all of them: shortstop Jordy Mercer, right-hander Gerrit Cole, reliever George Kontos and closer Felipe Rivero.

One other thing to keep in mind: The Pirates occasionally non-tender younger, non-arbitration-eligible players because they aren't slated to play a significant role the following season. They non-tendered outfielder Jaff Decker in 2015 and catcher Eric Fryer last year before either player was eligible for arbitration.

No coaching carousel
GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle are in for the long haul after signing four-year extensions. What about Hurdle's coaching staff?

Though no announcement has been made, Huntington said before the final game of the season that the entire staff is expected to return intact despite a disappointing year.

"We recognize that we -- as an organization, myself included -- need to be better, top to bottom, bottom to top," Huntington said. "But this is a coaching staff that is committed to helping these players get better, that is committed to outstanding preparation, that is committed to helping them execute to the best of their abilities and then reviewing what went well and what didn't go well. And this is a hard-working, talented coaching staff."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen