Bucs seek first-base help, may stick with G. Sanchez
Pittsburgh said to be in talks with Loney; Morrison, Moreland also possibilities
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates' search for a first baseman for 2014 continues to play out in the market at the Winter Meetings, but the possibility remains that the position might wind up being filled internally.
That means Gaby Sanchez could be manning first base on March 31 and beyond, regardless of who's on the mound for Pittsburgh's opponent.
When Bucs GM Neal Huntington met with the media at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort as Day 2 of the annual meetings wound down Tuesday, he made it clear that Sanchez remains on the team's radar, be it as the right-handed half of a duo at first or as the regular against all pitchers.
While the club waits on A.J. Burnett's decision to retire or not, the situation at first base was at the center of Huntington's comments to the media Tuesday.
"We're looking to put the best first-base production together that we can," Huntington said. "We have the luxury of Gaby, who absolutely annihilates left-handed pitching, and we're two years removed from him doing a nice job against right-handers."
Still, the Pirates are said to be engaged in talks with free agent James Loney, who according to Yahoo Sports is looking for a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $27 million to $30 million. They're also mentioned among about 10 teams who might trade for the Marlins' Logan Morrison, and at least speculated to be interested in Mitch Moreland, who might not be available until the Rangers find another designated hitter.
Without speaking specifically about Loney or any other player, Huntington did say Tuesday the club "absolutely" would consider a three-year deal for the right free agent -- a departure from previous years.
"If there's something that makes us better, then we absolutely look to do something," Huntington said.
But, as he did when the Meetings opened Monday, Huntington reminded that the Pirates do have a first baseman in Sanchez who could fill the bill.
"I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with Gaby as our answer. We're not," Huntington said of the right-handed hitter acquired from the Marlins in 2012.
Sanchez pretty much struggled against all pitchers the year he was traded, and he had a slash line of .204/.304/.315 in 194 plate-appearances against right-handers in 2013.
But Huntington harkens back to 2010, when Sanchez finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, and 2011, when he was an All-Star. Sanchez went .257/.331/.411 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs in 503 plate appearances vs. righties in 2011, nearly identical to his production the year before.
"We think he has a good chance to get back to what he did in '10 and '11," Huntington said. "He shows signs of things that we like. He's going to draw a fair number of walks, because he's got a quality approach at the plate. He puts the ball in play with authority."
Huntington pointed out that last year's tandem of Sanchez and left-handed Garrett Jones came about because they were a "perfect tandem" of guys who hit well against opposite-handed pitchers. That tandem, of course, went by the wayside with the August waiver trade for veteran Justin Morneau, who this winter signed with the Rockies. Jones was designated for assignment and finalized a two-year deal with the Marlins on Tuesday.
With Sanchez the only one of the three around, he figures to be in the mix, one way or another.
"If we can find a tandem, great," Huntington said. "If we can find a guy that takes regular at-bats and it deepens our bench options, that's an interesting scenario, too. We're looking at both."
But this much is clear: the Pirates are considering Sanchez as an option to be the everyday first baseman to start the 2014 season. Sure, it's an option that could be quashed by a signing or trade in the coming days or weeks, but it remains a viable scenario.
Said Huntington: "It's just a matter of is there something that makes us a little bit better? Do we get a little bit or a lot more production from somebody that we tandem with him? Or at the end of the day, does Gaby become our answer?"
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB.