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Waiting on Burnett, Bucs work on contingency plan

General manager Huntington in market for upgrades at first base, right field

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates arrived at this year's Winter Meetings with a few specific target areas known for months. After the first day of baseball's annual convention of rumors and deals, they were still speaking in generalities on those fronts.

With first base and right field on the wish list but not necessarily considered absolute needs, the Bucs still have the burning issue of whether right-hander A.J. Burnett will return or retire -- working on a contingency plan of pursuing a veteran starter if it's the latter.

There was no news on Burnett as baseball's movers and shakers descended upon the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, and there is really no change in the Pirates' offseason priorities.

"Same as it was on Oct. 10," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said as Day 1 of the Meetings came to a close Monday.

With Burnett's status unknown, the Pirates have been rumored to be interested in right-hander Bronson Arroyo, another veteran workhorse. But, as of Monday afternoon, Arroyo's camp hadn't heard from the Pirates, and the pitcher told's Mark Sheldon that he'd only heard of interest from the Twins, Phillies and Angels.

Almost two months have passed since Burnett left the issue hanging in the balance following the National League Division Series, but Huntington and the Pirates are staying patient as long as they can.

"As I've said from the beginning, we're working as hard as we can to respect A.J.'s process. He's earned the right to make the decision of does he want to pitch another year," Huntington said. "I've also said from the get-go that there will come a point in time where we may either ask him if he's in or out, or we may choose to go another direction."

That situation hasn't yet changed, but what may have changed is the Pirates' perception of their other target areas -- right field and first base.

The Pirates have had some time to gauge the market of players who could step in as a right fielder while the club awaits the arrival of top prospect Gregory Polanco, and Huntington said there simply isn't a lot out there.

"The outfield market's very shallow, so we're leaning toward maybe staying in-house on that one," said Huntington. "But we're still open to some trades and seeing if there might be a fit there."

Jose Tabata, Travis Snider and Andrew Lambo are the main in-house options in right field for the Pirates.

As for first base, Huntington didn't rule out a full-time role for Gaby Sanchez, noting his splits against right-handers have been better in the past than the last couple of years. Still, the Pirates have been attached to several names of left-handed hitters, both on the free-agent market -- mainly, James Loney -- and on the rumor mill for trades.

The Rangers' Mitch Moreland and the Marlins' Logan Morrison are among the names that have been bandied about in trade rumors. Also, the Blue Jays and Pirates are said to have discussed Adam Lind, but Toronto recently asked for second baseman Neil Walker in return, according to an source.

While saying first base is "one of those spots where we feel like we can help provide a little more offense," Huntington maintains the club won't dive into something that doesn't make sense in the longer term.

"As we look at the market, we're not desperately seeking a left-handed hitter, we're not desperately seeking a first baseman," Huntington said. "We're looking for somebody we think makes us better than what we have in-house now for the right acquisition cost."

That's the rub for any offseason move: you have to give something to get something. For now, the Pirates remain focused on what they can do to improve the team, whether the answer comes from within or outside the organization.

"There's still a good balance of conversations between free agents and trades," Huntington said. "There's still a good number of guys out there that we have interest in on both markets."

Whether the Pirates' search comes to fruition on those fronts this week, this offseason or at all remains to be seen. That search is taking place in an atmosphere less muddied by big-name logjams at the top of the market as in years past, with much of the big-headline news in baseball already made.

"It's hard to move faster than the last 8-10 days. It's been exciting to be a fan, I would imagine," Huntington said. "The beautiful part about the Winter Meetings is the pace is hour to hour, sometimes minute to minute.

"We're going through the typical ebb and flow of the Winter Meetings and reestablishing some of the conversations we had coming into them and seeing whether the latest moves have changed any of the parameters or any of the opportunities. You're kind of doing the dance early."

Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett