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Winter Meetings history on Pirates' side

Team has made several successful signings and trades during annual gathering
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- As they often remind us, the Pirates will never set out to "win the winter." Their budget prohibits splashy free-agent signings, and they rarely find themselves in the middle of blockbuster trades in the offseason.

But next week's Winter Meetings are for everyone, and even the Bucs have had their share of memorable moments at the baseball industry's annual gathering of executives, agents, media and job-seekers. The week-long affair is heavy on rumors, light on rest and occasionally best remembered for the deals that don't get done.

PITTSBURGH -- As they often remind us, the Pirates will never set out to "win the winter." Their budget prohibits splashy free-agent signings, and they rarely find themselves in the middle of blockbuster trades in the offseason.

But next week's Winter Meetings are for everyone, and even the Bucs have had their share of memorable moments at the baseball industry's annual gathering of executives, agents, media and job-seekers. The week-long affair is heavy on rumors, light on rest and occasionally best remembered for the deals that don't get done.

That was the case for the Pirates and Braves in 2006. Three days into the Winter Meetings, held at the same Disney World resort that will host next week's meetings, the Bucs came close to a trade, watched it fall apart and left without finishing the deal.

Pirates head to Meetings with holes to fill 

Pittsburgh entered that offseason seeking a left-handed power bat to anchor a punchless offense. Atlanta wanted a late-inning reliever. The Pirates were willing to part with left-handed closer Mike Gonzalez. The Braves made first baseman Adam LaRoche available.

By Wednesday afternoon of those meetings, reports indicated the Pirates and Braves were ready to complete a Gonzalez-for-LaRoche deal. By Wednesday night, it was off -- contentiously and permanently, or so it seemed.

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Atlanta's front office reportedly blamed Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield for being too slow on the draw. That day, Braves GM John Schuerholz found his late-inning arm elsewhere by swinging a deal with the Mariners for right-hander Rafael Soriano.

The following morning, Littlefield called the criticism "an absolute fabrication," but left that year's Winter Meetings empty-handed.

"Sometimes things come up where someone is making something up. You learn to live with it," Littlefield told reporters, including MLB.com's Ed Eagle, at the time. "You can't go out there and start refuting everything you don't like or try to confirm things that you do like. That's how this business goes."

Video: HOU@PIT: LaRoche hits walk-off single in 16th

Illustrating another way the business of baseball works, a deal for LaRoche came to fruition about six weeks later. The Pirates acquired LaRoche and Jamie Romak on Jan. 19, 2007, in exchange for Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge.

LaRoche went on to bat .265 with 58 homers and 213 RBIs in 2 1/2 seasons for the Pirates. The Bucs haven't had a first baseman start on consecutive Opening Days since LaRoche was traded to the Red Sox in 2009 -- a streak Josh Bell is likely to break in 2018.

The Bucs have made a handful of other successful deals at recent Winter Meetings. In 2001, they traded Todd Ritchie for Kip Wells and Josh Fogg and saw both pitch well, as the Pirates' record improved by 10 games in 2002. They were busy in '05, dumping enough salary to trade for hometown hero Sean Casey, acquire Damaso Marte and sign Roberto Hernandez.

And in 2014, after breaking their 20-year streak with a losing record by going to two straight postseasons, the Pirates traded for veteran reliever Antonio Bastardo and agreed to sign starter Francisco Liriano for three years and $39 million, the largest free-agent contract in franchise history.

Liriano attracted plenty of interest, but he chose the Pirates -- a decision that prompted GM Neal Huntington to declare the Bucs had become "more relevant" -- then helped Pittsburgh win 98 games in 2015.

Of course, the Pirates also felt obligated to unload the remainder of Liriano's deal when he struggled in 2016. Another reminder that victories at the Winter Meetings don't always translate to wins on the field.

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

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