SAN DIEGO -- While this year's Winter Meetings saw big-name free agents come off the board and a considerable amount of business done elsewhere around the league, the Pirates kept a low profile.
They only made one move, agreeing to sign right-hander Héctor Noesi to a Minor League deal, though it was not officially announced. General manager Ben Cherington said the Bucs want to add position players and pitching depth, but the buzz they generated in San Diego this week was more about who they'll ship out than who they'll bring in.
There's still plenty of time left to change that narrative, of course, and a relatively quiet week here probably shouldn't have come as a surprise considering how much ground the Pirates had to cover within their own baseball operations department. They got a late start to the offseason after hiring new president Travis Williams, Cherington, assistant GM Steve Sanders and manager Derek Shelton, and they're still filling out their coaching staff. Their offseason moves, to this point, have been driven by roster deadlines more than anything else.
But Pittsburgh left the Winter Meetings on Thursday morning feeling confident about its revamped leadership group, encouraged by the progress it made toward completing the coaching staff and growing more familiar with the roster and each other.
"It's been really good. I think any time you can get everybody together, especially for a new group -- Ben and I are still getting to know the roster and getting to know the inner workings of people," Shelton said. "So to be able to not only sit in a suite with them, but also to go to dinner and have some social time with them, it's really nice. … We've spent into the night in the rooms, and it's not so much with a lot of things going on -- it's more of the fact of being able to just develop relationships."
BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
1) Catcher: Another option came off the board on Thursday, when the Tigers agreed to sign former Yankees backup Austin Romine to a one-year deal. But there are still plenty of capable veterans available to sign, with Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Martin Maldonado and Russell Martin as probably the most appealing options. It's also still possible the Pirates could address this need through a trade. (That makes the Padres, who have a deep set of catching prospects, a potentially interesting trade fit for center fielder Starling Marte.) But the market at the position has moved quicker than some might have expected, and one way or another, the Pirates need someone to pair with catcher Jacob Stallings. It's also about time to identify and acquire their backstop of the future, given the lack of MLB-ready players currently in the system.
2) Trade resolution: The past few days brought plenty of talk with almost no action. Marte was linked to the Mets and Padres, with more teams expected to be in the mix. Adam Frazier's name came up often, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the A's are among the teams interested in him. It would make sense to trade both if the Pirates are looking to add talent to their farm system, but the front office left San Diego without any deals done. At some point, they'll have to kick-start their offseason activity -- and that seems likely to come through a trade.
3) Coaching staff: The Pirates have been interviewing candidates for their vacant pitching coach position, so that hire could be finalized in the coming days. Filling the spot is a priority for Pittsburgh, but it's not the only opening remaining for the club. The Pirates must also hire a first-base coach, an assistant hitting coach, a bullpen coach and another coach who could assume the quality control-type role Shelton held with Toronto in 2017.
RULE 5 DRAFT
The Pirates, who had the seventh selection in the Major League phase of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, elected not to fill the open spot on their 40-man roster as they left the Winter Meetings.
In the first round of the Minor League phase, Pittsburgh selected 23-year-old Alex Aquino, a right-hander from the Braves' Rookie-level Danville roster. Aquino began his career as an infielder before moving to the mound in '17. Last season, the reliever posted a 3.60 ERA and 0.85 WHIP with 22 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 innings over 12 appearances.
The Bucs also lost first baseman/outfielder Jerrick Suiter, 26, to the Cubs during the Minor League phase. Suiter, a 26th-round Draft pick in 2014, hit just .235 with a .576 OPS in 121 games for Double-A Altoona last season.
GM'S BOTTOM LINE
"We need to get to a winning team. We need to help our current players play better and add more talent over time. There's no one path toward that, but at the same time, we think there's an existing group of players on the team that has untapped potential. I'd say we're more focused on trying to help them, help that group with that. That doesn't mean we won't make trades, that doesn't mean we won't explore ways to add more talent -- I think we will -- but we're not thinking about it in the way that you're describing right now [as an all-in or tear-down situation]. But we also want to stay open to opportunities and really try to be flexible and ready to adjust if something compelling comes our way." -- Cherington