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Pirates keeping open mind in hunt for hurlers

MLB.com

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Pirates' top priority this offseason is improving their rotation. Step one, general manager Neal Huntington quipped on Tuesday afternoon, is having a pitcher qualify for the ERA title next year after failing to do so this past season.

Step two?

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Pirates' top priority this offseason is improving their rotation. Step one, general manager Neal Huntington quipped on Tuesday afternoon, is having a pitcher qualify for the ERA title next year after failing to do so this past season.

Step two?

"We're looking to get some combination of what we feel is production and eating innings," Huntington said on the second full day of the Winter Meetings. "But eating innings with a 5.50 ERA doesn't do us a whole lot of good."

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To that end, the Pirates are keeping their options open as they evaluate the market for starting pitching. They need at least one new arm behind top starters Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, preferably a veteran to slot in alongside Chad Kuhl and one of Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison, Trevor Williams or Steven Brault.

The Bucs could add two starters, as they have been linked to a handful of contractually controllable pitchers since the Trade Deadline. But with several internal options, they won't add an arm simply for the sake of making a move.

"It'll depend on where the market allows us to go. We'd be comfortable adding one. We'd be comfortable adding nobody if it's just not there," Huntington said. "We don't feel that we are driven to force it. If we can add one that makes sense for us, that's great. If we end up adding two that make sense for us and allow us to get better, then we do that."

The Pirates will meet this week with the representative for left-hander Derek Holland, who posted a 4.93 ERA in 32 appearances over the last two years. The 30-year-old Holland was a solid starter for the Rangers from 2010 to 2013, logging a 3.98 ERA, and is said to be intrigued by the Bucs' reputation for turning around pitchers' careers.

Right-hander Tyson Ross, non-tendered by the Padres, is another logical fit. According to FOX Sports, Ross is interested in signing for a club that "excels at handling and rehabilitating pitchers," and the Pirates fit that description given their success with the likes of Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, J.A. Happ and Ivan Nova.

But Ross is bound to have plenty of suitors, including the Padres, and the Pirates have found that acquiring reclamation-project pitchers is no longer just a matter of identifying the right bounce-back candidates. Those pitchers get paid well, too.

"There's no question it's become more of a challenge," Huntington said. "There don't seem to be as many guys that we've identified, the traits that we've liked in the past. They've been more difficult to acquire, because teams are paying them."

The Bucs made extension offers to Nova in September, and he now stands as arguably the best available free-agent starter. Asked specifically if the Pirates recently reached out to Nova's camp, Huntington responded the two sides will "continue to have dialogue on multiple fronts."

Video: Berry on Nova as third starter in Bucs rotation

The Pirates asked the Rays about their young starters before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and Tampa Bay will reportedly consider dealing a pitcher this offseason. In trade talks with the Nationals, the Bucs have been connected to such young arms as Lucas Giolito, Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez.

Will the Bucs land one of those players? Will they find the right veteran? Could they do both?

"I don't have a great answer for you other than the names are the names. The conversations continue on the various fronts," Huntington said. "Working to find something that makes sense for us."

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates