LAS VEGAS -- The Pirates addressed a couple of glaring needs before setting up shop this week at the Winter Meetings, and their offseason work continued at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.
Pittsburgh entered the Winter Meetings having already signed third baseman Jungho Kang and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. The Pirates then traded starter Ivan Nova to the White Sox on Tuesday for future considerations and, of more immediate concern, more than $8.5 million worth of payroll space. The same day, they agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent right-hander Jordan Lyles, who could replace Nova or carve out a role in the bullpen.
But the offseason did not end when executives from all 30 teams flocked from the Rule 5 Draft to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport on Thursday. There is still work to be done in the two months before Spring Training begins.
For one, the Pirates must finalize their agreement with Lyles in the coming days. Doing so will fill up their 40-man roster again.
General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates will reallocate Nova's salary elsewhere, seemingly indicating that there are more moves in their future. They will continue to weigh trade offers for catcher Francisco Cervelli, although there's no guarantee they will move him. The Pirates remain on the lookout for upgrades in the bullpen and at shortstop, and they'll have to fill Nova's spot in the rotation.
"We hope to get better. We're looking to take this week [to explore] how else can we add to this club," Huntington said. "We feel very comfortable and very committed to the rotation, the four young arms who are going to be the foundation of the rotation for years to come. We'd like to add to the back four in the bullpen. … That's a great anchor as we head into the '19 season."
BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
- Fifth starter: It could wind up being Lyles. It might be Nick Kingham or Steven Brault. It could even be an "opener" rather than a true fifth starter. But the Pirates cleared a spot in their rotation by trading Nova to the White Sox, and they'll need someone to fill it before Opening Day. The competition could carry into Spring Training, and it's possible that top prospect Mitch Keller will eventually take the job next summer. Pittsburgh's front office views its rotation as one of the team's strengths, and that is based largely on the potential of Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove.
2. Left-handed reliever: The Pirates' need for a lefty reliever may be overstated, because they have a strong back-end quartet in closer Felipe Vazquez, setup man Keone Kela and right-handers Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez. They also have potential long men in Kingham, Brault and Lyles, a high-upside arm in Nick Burdi and a handful of other middle-relief candidates. But expect the Pirates to at least bolster their depth in this area, because Vazquez and Brault are the only lefty pitchers on their 40-man roster. They could make room for a higher-leverage southpaw if they intend to use one of their late-inning relievers as an "opener" on occasion.
3. Shortstop: Yes, the Pirates are comfortable with internal options Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman. No, that does not mean they'll stop looking for an upgrade to improve their infield. The Pirates checked in with the D-backs this week about slick-fielding shortstop Nick Ahmed, and they will likely continue to monitor the free-agent market that includes veterans Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria. It's entirely possible the job will go to Gonzalez or Newman, or that the duo will split time there, but it remains a position to watch now that longtime shortstop Jordy Mercer is set to sign with the Tigers.
RULE 5 DRAFT
The Pirates passed on making a pick and didn't lose any of their unprotected prospects in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. They were more active in the Minor League phase, when they selected outfielder Randolph Gassaway from the Orioles and right-hander Winston Nicacio from the Cardinals. They also lost Double-A corner infielder/outfielder Jordan George to the White Sox and Class A catcher Rafelin Lorenzo to the Cubs.
Gassaway, 23, hit .268/.345/.385 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 109 games for Class A Aberdeen and Class A Advanced Frederick last season. A 16th-round Draft pick in 2013, Gassaway has mostly played left field. The 21-year-old Nicacio, who spent last year in Class A ball, has posted a 4.13 ERA in 180 2/3 innings spanning 49 appearances (including 28 starts) over the past three seasons.
Hours after the Rule 5 Draft ended, the Pirates acquired right-hander Cristofer Melendez, who was picked in the first round of the Minor League phase, from the Padres in exchange for cash considerations. Melendez, 21, put together a 1.54 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings over 15 appearances (11 starts) for the Dominican Summer League White Sox last season.
GM'S BOTTOM LINE
"Our focus is more on what we have and how do we maximize what we have. We remind ourselves that in 2013, '14 and '15, we were supposed to be a fourth-place team and our two best projected records were for '16 and '17. We need to take those better record projections … and figure out how to add a win or two per month to put ourselves back in the postseason hunt." -- Huntington, on competing in the National League Central