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Answers to key FAQs about Pirates' offseason

October 3, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- Winter came early again for the Pirates, who wrapped up their 82-79 campaign on Sunday in Cincinnati. Now, general manager Neal Huntington and Pittsburgh's front office will start plotting a course for the offseason in an effort to get the Bucs back to the postseason for the first

PITTSBURGH -- Winter came early again for the Pirates, who wrapped up their 82-79 campaign on Sunday in Cincinnati. Now, general manager Neal Huntington and Pittsburgh's front office will start plotting a course for the offseason in an effort to get the Bucs back to the postseason for the first time since 2015.
Here are a few key dates, deadlines and questions as the offseason begins.
Who are their free agents?
The morning after the World Series ends, all eligible players become free agents. The Pirates have one such player: shortstop Jordy Mercer, who can test the market for the first time in his career. He has said he will consider all of his options, including the Pirates.
What about the club options?
Three days after the World Series, things get a little more interesting. It seems like the Pirates will decline Josh Harrison's $10.5 million option, instead paying him a $1 million buyout and making him a free agent. Adam Frazier likely will take over as the regular second baseman in Harrison's place.
The tougher call is third baseman Jungho Kang, whose contract includes a $5.5 million club option that can be bought out for $250,000. Kang, who will be 32 in April, missed nearly two years due to visa issues following his DUI arrest in South Korea and, more recently, injuries. He offers potential, but also uncertainty.
Anything could happen, but it seems more likely that the Pirates will decline Kang's option and continue to negotiate with his representatives. Perhaps there is a middle ground that works for both sides, like a lower guaranteed salary with significant performance bonuses.
Who will be eligible for arbitration?
Left fielder Corey Dickerson will be eligible for the third time, setup man Keone Kela for the second time and reliever Michael Feliz for the first time.
The Pirates certainly will retain Dickerson (who made $5.95 million this year) and Kela ($1.2 million), and both are likely due significant salary increases after strong seasons. Manager Clint Hurdle also recently expressed confidence in Feliz, who should receive a more modest raise after a rough season.
Are there any non-tender candidates?
Maybe Feliz, based on his performance this season, but it seems unlikely. The Pirates can't really pass up on experienced middle-relief candidates, and Feliz pitched well enough early in the year to warrant another chance.
The more interesting question is whether they will non-tender any pre-arbibration-eligible players to create room on their roster, as they've done in the past, before the Nov. 30 deadline. They didn't promote infielder Max Moroff or right-hander Alex McRae, for instance, after rosters expanded in September.
Which prospects do they have to protect?
The Pirates must add prospects to their 40-man roster by the Nov. 20 deadline to shield them from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. They got a head start during the season by calling up Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer, who would have been eligible, and Pablo Reyes, who would have reached Minor League free agency.
The most prominent players left to protect are Mitch Keller and shortstop Cole Tucker. Other names to consider are Triple-A outfielder Jason Martin and pitchers J.T. Brubaker and Brandon Waddell.
Do they have any flexibility on their 40-man roster?
Not right now. The roster is full. The Pirates will clear two spots when Mercer and Harrison become free agents, and potentially a third if they decline Kang's option. But they must also activate Chad Kuhl (Tommy John surgery) from the 60-day disabled list in the offseason. Lefty Nik Turley, who didn't pitch this season after a suspension and an elbow injury, was outrighted on Thursday and thus will not have to be activated from the 60-day disabled list.
When and where are the Winter Meetings?
Always the highlight of the offseason calendar, the Winter Meetings will take place from Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas. The Rule 5 Draft will take place on the final morning.
Will they sign any free agents?
Well, the Bucs didn't sign a Major League free agent last offseason as they did most of their work on the trade market. It seems more likely they will sign free agents this winter, even if they're not involved with any marquee names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Patrick Corbin.
What about the payroll?
The Pirates shed two of their biggest contracts last offseason, took on salary at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, then moved some on Aug. 31. Huntington didn't reveal anything on Sunday when asked about their budget.
"We haven't talked a ton on where we're going in the offseason," Huntington said. "We've been focused on, 'Let's get through September, see where our budget projections are and see how we can put this puzzle together for next year.' We'll get deeper into that as we go into the offseason."
What's on the wish list?
The Bucs need to add a power bat, but it could end up being Kang. They like rookie shortstop Newman, a former first-round Draft pick who struggled in September, but they haven't exactly hidden their desire for a veteran complement/mentor there. That tops the list.
They also might be in the market for another outfielder, unless they feel comfortable with Gregory Polanco's progress and internal options like Reyes and Jordan Luplow. Before acquiring Dickerson last February, they explored this market with lower-risk acquisitions like Bryce Brentz, Daniel Nava and Michael Saunders.
Are there any important injuries?
Polanco, who is recovering from season-ending shoulder and knee injuries, is critical to Pittsburgh's chances next year. So his rehabilitation timeline could impact how the Bucs approach the offseason.
Also keep an eye on starter Joe Musgrove, who was shut down due to a stress reaction on the front of his pelvic bone and an abdominal wall muscle strain. If he hasn't fully recovered after another month of rest, he could require surgery that might affect his readiness for Opening Day.
Kuhl and Santana won't pitch for the Pirates next season following Tommy John surgery.

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