Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
The Official Site of the Pittsburgh Pirates

news

Pirates News

Bucs find themselves at franchise crossroads

To rebuild or reload? That is the question
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates left the Winter Meetings on Thursday not ready to publicly answer a critical question: Is it time to reload or rebuild?

"It's not a completely-in-or-completely-out scenario," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Do we go in '18 because that's our best choice on the players and this setup, or are we pushing our window back a little bit?"

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates left the Winter Meetings on Thursday not ready to publicly answer a critical question: Is it time to reload or rebuild?

"It's not a completely-in-or-completely-out scenario," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Do we go in '18 because that's our best choice on the players and this setup, or are we pushing our window back a little bit?"

• Pirates exit Meetings with status up in air

The Pirates are at a crossroads. Which direction should they take? Let's look at the merits of both.

Go for it in 2018: If nothing else, it would feel right, in the final year of Andrew McCutchen's contract, to make one final postseason push. McCutchen helped bring playoff baseball back to Pittsburgh, the Steel City that inspired his son's name, so why not make one last run before he becomes a free agent?

Video: Cutch's team-first mentality a blessing for Bucs

The Pirates have young pitchers who showed signs of promise in the second half. They have Felipe Rivero. They have no pressing holes in their lineup, as they could start the same eight players they did last season, and a number of players who should bounce back or improve next year.

There is a legitimate argument that the Pirates have been unlucky the past two seasons. Consider McCutchen's 2016 dip and '17 slump, Francisco Liriano's drastic decline, Starling Marte's suspension, Jung Ho Kang's arrest and the significant and/or recurring medical maladies of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon. All that, for a team that operates without much margin for error in a tough division.

• Hurdle remains confident in current bats

Yet therein lies this plan's inherent flaw. With a limited budget, the Pirates would be counting on steps forward while being unable to withstand much regression in the other direction.

They tried to carefully add around the edges in 2016-17, even though their small-market model simultaneously necessitated the subtraction of core players like Neil Walker and Mark Melancon, and that strategy yielded win totals of 78 and 75.

If you count Kang, who's on the restricted list, nine current Pirates were on their 98-win club in 2015. Five of them (Marte, McCutchen, Cole, Kang and Cervelli) were worth at least three Wins Above Replacement that year. Yet the Bucs have produced only two 3+ WAR seasons the last two years: Marte in '16 and Josh Harrison in '17.

They have a core in place, but is it enough?

Rebuild for 2019: The Pirates have three valuable trade chips who have reportedly drawn interest: McCutchen, Cole and Harrison. However, their current predicament may be prolonged by the slow-moving market for free-agent hitters.

Video: Pirates willing to listen on offers for Cole

Clubs with interest in McCutchen can hold out for outfielders J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain and Jay Bruce. That's also true for Cole and starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. Same for Harrison and infielders Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier and Walker.

They can't sell for the sake of selling. That's a good way to make bad trades.

• Pirates may be open to trading Cole

But if the Pirates find deals that restock their farm system with high-level players nearly ready for the Majors, they could quickly add talent to their own young core (Rivero, Taillon, Josh Bell, etc.) and top prospects (Mitch Keller, Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, etc.), then hope to contend in the near future without a long rebuilding process.

After seeing attendance drop the last two years, management understands that the Pirates must win to earn fans' trust. Could they swallow a purposeful step back that involves parting with popular players, even if it comes with the promise of better days ahead?

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates 'comfortable,' come what may in 2018

Club could eye contention or focus on rebuild next season
MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Pirates arrived at the Winter Meetings on Sunday night, it was unclear whether they did so as buyers, sellers or something in between. As they hurried home Thursday morning, their status is still up in the air.

The Bucs made a handful of minor moves during the Winter Meetings, claiming infielder Engelb Vielma off waivers, then acquiring two young relievers in the Rule 5 Draft. Most of their time and energy was spent evaluating the market for potential trade candidates like Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Pirates arrived at the Winter Meetings on Sunday night, it was unclear whether they did so as buyers, sellers or something in between. As they hurried home Thursday morning, their status is still up in the air.

The Bucs made a handful of minor moves during the Winter Meetings, claiming infielder Engelb Vielma off waivers, then acquiring two young relievers in the Rule 5 Draft. Most of their time and energy was spent evaluating the market for potential trade candidates like Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen.

"Our general mindset remains the same. Our goal is to get this club back to the postseason as consistently and frequently as possible," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Depending upon what we're able to do in this market, that goal may be '18, that goal may be '19. We'll see where we're able to go."

What's next
At some point, the Pirates must pick a lane. Are they building around McCutchen and Cole and going for it next season? Or are they dealing their assets, taking a step back in 2018 and looking to contend in '19 and beyond?

"We're still working through both, and we're comfortable being able to go in either direction," Huntington said. "The market has been awfully slow to develop, and that continues."

The market for relievers took off this week, but the activity involving starting pitchers and position players has been slower. That is one reason the Pirates continue to wait.

The Yankees and Twins, both rich in young talent, are among the teams rumored to be interested in Cole. McCutchen should draw varying levels of interest from any team looking for an outfielder, including the Giants, Dodgers and Blue Jays. Harrison could help just about any team as a super-utility man.

If those trade talks present the opportunity to acquire a haul of controllable prospects who supplement their existing young core, the Pirates will deal their veterans and focus on 2019. If other clubs' offers don't meet their demands, they can add around the margins this offseason and take one more shot with what they have next season.

Huntington ruled out the idea of standing pat and reevaluating their situation before the Trade Deadline. The Pirates will preach patience for now, but they won't be idle all offseason.

"If we believe our best impact on this organization is to roll this club back out for '18, the goal would be to win. It wouldn't be a toe in the water to see where we are in July," Huntington said. "The goal would be, 'Let's let this club roll out and be as good as it can be.' If we're in a position to add in July, that would be fantastic."

Rule 5 Draft
The Pirates acquired a pair of hard-throwing right-handed relievers, Jordan Milbrath and Nick Burdi. The Bucs selected Milbrath from the Indians with the eighth pick, then dealt $500,000 in international bonus pool money to the Phillies in exchange for Burdi, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and won't pitch until late 2018. Pittsburgh lost no prospects in the Major League phase.

GM's bottom line
"It's all about maximizing our opportunity to get back to the postseason and then stay there as many times as we can with a chance to win. That's the decision process we're working through right now, and that's a good spot to be in. We're not looking at 'all-in' or 'all-out' because we believe this is a good group to build around. Is that focus '18, or is it a little beyond that?" -- Huntington

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bucs pick RHPs Burdi, Milbrath in Rule 5 Draft

MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates added a pair of high-upside right-handers on the final day of the Winter Meetings, selecting reliever Jordan Milbrath and acquiring rehabbing reliever Nick Burdi shortly after the Rule 5 Draft ended.

Pittsburgh took Milbrath from the Indians' system with the eighth pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Bucs then sent $500,000 in international bonus pool money to the Phillies in exchange for Burdi, who was Philadelphia's Rule 5 Draft pick.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates added a pair of high-upside right-handers on the final day of the Winter Meetings, selecting reliever Jordan Milbrath and acquiring rehabbing reliever Nick Burdi shortly after the Rule 5 Draft ended.

Pittsburgh took Milbrath from the Indians' system with the eighth pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Bucs then sent $500,000 in international bonus pool money to the Phillies in exchange for Burdi, who was Philadelphia's Rule 5 Draft pick.

Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the club's active roster or disabled list for the entire season or placed on outright waivers. If they clear waivers, they are offered back to their original team. Clubs occasionally work out trades that allow Rule 5 picks to remain in the selecting team's organization without staying on the active roster.

:: Rule 5 Draft coverage ::

Burdi, a hard-throwing 24-year-old, is a unique case. The former second-round pick is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in late May, and he likely won't be ready for a full return until the second half of 2018. He must spend 90 days on the Pirates' active roster between next season and '19 before his Rule 5 restrictions are removed.

"We fully expect that he will not be able to compete to make our club in Spring Training, but we do like the arm, we like the upside and are willing to carry him on the DL for a while if need be," general manager Neal Huntington said. "The challenge is we've just selected an injured pitcher. We know the risk that goes along with that. We're optimistic that, like a good handful of Tommy John surgeries, he'll bounce back from it."

Burdi, drafted 46th overall by the Twins in 2014, owns a career 3.20 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 104 innings over 80 appearances in the Minors. The 6-foot-5 righty, who reached Double-A in 2016 and returned there this year, entered this season as the No. 18 prospect in the Twins' system, according to MLBPipeline.com.

"We'll be patient with him. We need to gather a lot of information as we go through this process with him, but we feel like it's a good arm," Huntington said. "It's a good arm to add that has short-term, moderate-term and potentially long-term value."

Milbrath, 26, is a more traditional Rule 5 Draft pick. The 6-foot-6 right-hander recorded a 3.02 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings over 30 appearances between Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Akron in Cleveland's system.

A 35th-round Draft pick in 2013, Milbrath reportedly changed his arm slot this year and saw his velocity tick up significantly. He also recorded a 4.72 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio, showing the kind of ground-ball tendencies the Pirates frequently seek.

"It's heavy, heavy sink. A very high ground-ball rate," Huntington said. "We like the slider, and we're intrigued by what he might become. He will come to camp with a legitimate chance to make our club."

The Pirates did not lose any of their eligible prospects in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. In the Minor League portion, they selected right-hander Damien Magnifico from the Angels and catcher Rafelin Lorenzo from the Rays.

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Hurdle believes Bucs' current bats can thrive

Skipper says several hitters are looking into increasing launch angle
MLB.com @adamdberry

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ask Clint Hurdle how the Pirates can improve offensively next season, and he won't mention a power-hitting free agent or trade target. Even at the Winter Meetings, entrenched with Pittsburgh's front office as they've discussed deals all week, Hurdle believes the Pirates already have what it takes.

The Pirates fielded one of the Majors' least productive lineups last season, ranking 28th in runs and OPS and 29th in home runs and slugging percentage. But Hurdle insisted Wednesday those numbers can improve organically with good health, a consistent core and an adjusted approach.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ask Clint Hurdle how the Pirates can improve offensively next season, and he won't mention a power-hitting free agent or trade target. Even at the Winter Meetings, entrenched with Pittsburgh's front office as they've discussed deals all week, Hurdle believes the Pirates already have what it takes.

The Pirates fielded one of the Majors' least productive lineups last season, ranking 28th in runs and OPS and 29th in home runs and slugging percentage. But Hurdle insisted Wednesday those numbers can improve organically with good health, a consistent core and an adjusted approach.

"Our focus needs to continue to be upon ourselves, getting us better," Hurdle said. "Teams are going to add. Teams are going to subtract. How can we be the best team we're going to be? I know it might sound like a pat answer, but it works when you do it. And it's what we need to do more than anything else."

The Pirates were without Jung Ho Kang all season and Starling Marte for 80 games in 2017, while Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli were often limited by injuries. Kang is unlikely to return for 2018, but the Bucs are counting on more production from Marte, Polanco and Cervelli.

"First and foremost is our health," Hurdle said. "It's getting the core group of men on the field with consistency. Outside of that, I think all players are continually looking to improve their game."

• Winter Meetings interview with Clint Hurdle

Video: Cutch's team-first mentality a blessing for Bucs

To that end, Hurdle said several hitters discussed the idea last season of adding more lift to their swing, creating a launch angle that should lead to more line drives and fly balls and fewer balls on the ground. The Pirates finished last season with the third highest ground-ball rate in the Majors at 46.9 percent, behind only the Marlins and White Sox.

• Hot Stove Tracker

One player looking to make that adjustment, Hurdle said, is David Freese, who remains the starter at third base in Kang's absence. Freese led the team with a .368 on-base percentage but lacked power, swatting only 10 homers with a .371 slugging percentage. He showed more power the previous two seasons, during which he combined for 27 homers and a .416 slugging percentage.

"David actually brought it to us," Hurdle said. "Players watch TV. Players listen to other players. Players watch for the players that have success. J.D. Martinez started talking about it a couple years ago. Then with the success that Chris Taylor had, it became public. The information gets out. We all are aware that OPS isn't on the ground.

"Guys are open-minded. They're looking for improvement. We're all trying to work a little bit harder, get a little bit better."

Video: Hurdle discusses Bell's plate approach

Hurdle also said he has received encouraging reports from the Dominican Republic regarding Marte, who is playing winter ball, and Polanco. The Pirates felt that Polanco sacrificed some of his natural athleticism in favor of additional strength during his training last winter, which may have led to the rash of injuries that derailed his season.

"On any given night, either of those guys can be the best player on the field," general manager Neal Huntington said of Marte and Polanco. "It's just a matter of how often we can get them to be the best player on the field."

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Bucs not rushing to find a fourth outfielder

MLB.com @adamdberry

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates spent a big chunk of 2017 without a dedicated fourth outfielder on their roster, instead shuffling a variety of super-utility men and converted infielders into the corner spots as they dealt with Starling Marte's suspension and Gregory Polanco's various injuries.

Pittsburgh may address that need this offseason, general manager Neal Huntington said on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, but it sounds like that will only happen if the Bucs find a fit with a fourth outfielder who represents a clear upgrade over their existing options.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates spent a big chunk of 2017 without a dedicated fourth outfielder on their roster, instead shuffling a variety of super-utility men and converted infielders into the corner spots as they dealt with Starling Marte's suspension and Gregory Polanco's various injuries.

Pittsburgh may address that need this offseason, general manager Neal Huntington said on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, but it sounds like that will only happen if the Bucs find a fit with a fourth outfielder who represents a clear upgrade over their existing options.

"We're looking [for an extra outfielder] via trade or free agency," Huntington said, "but it has to be something that makes sense for us."

If there is no such match, the Pirates have several backup plans in place.

Rookie Jordan Luplow could back up Marte and Polanco, start on occasion and serve as a right-handed bat off the bench. Adam Frazier and Sean Rodriguez have experience in the outfield. Jose Osuna played some right field last season, and top prospect Austin Meadows may soon be ready for the big leagues if he stays healthy and succeeds in Triple-A.

Hot Stove Tracker

But Luplow has only 269 plate appearances above Double-A, Frazier and Rodriguez are key parts of the Bucs' infield plan, Osuna will spend most of his time next spring at first and third base, and Meadows needs more seasoning after a shaky Triple-A debut last season.

Bringing in a more experienced outfielder would permit the Pirates to keep the status quo. Jarrod Dyson, Jon Jay and Austin Jackson are among the available free-agent outfielders who could fill a reserve role, but it's unclear how actively the Pirates are pursuing those options.

"Does it allow us to continue to have Jordan Luplow get at-bats in Triple-A? He didn't have a ton of at-bats down there a year ago," Huntington said. "If that's where we end up, that's great. If we end up with Jordan on our Major League team, we'll go forward with that as well."

Around the horn
• Huntington said that the Pirates are more willing to consider using Tyler Glasnow in relief than they were this time last year. It's not about anything Glasnow has done, Huntington said, but a product of Pittsburgh's rotation depth that could force a starter or two into the Opening Day bullpen.

"This year, with some other guys coming [from] behind, with the advancement of [Nick] Kingham, with some other guys on the horizon, we feel we could put one -- maybe two -- of our young starters in the bullpen if that's our best club," Huntington said.

• Huntington said that the Pirates will use their remaining international bonus pool money in some way. They have $2.26 million, which they'd hoped to put toward Shohei Ohtani had he considered signing with them.

"History tells us there's still a lot of good players out there," Huntington said. "The reality is, there are a lot of good players that are signed over the course of the year. Whether it's using that money directly in the international market, or [using] some of that money via trade to acquire a player or players that we think impact us in a different way, we anticipate utilizing that money fully, some combination of signings and trades."

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Winter Meetings interview with Clint Hurdle

MLB.com

Q. When you guys look ahead to 2018, what are some things you talked about that can possibly create some more offense, more runs for you?

CLINT HURDLE: First and foremost is our health. I said it all along, I said it from the end of the season through this point, it's getting the core group of men on the field with consistency. Outside of that, I think all players are continually looking to improve their game. I know throughout the season we had some conversations about truthfully launch angles, what goes into creating a better launch angle, a more consistent launch angle. You want to have guys that have bat-to-ball ability first and foremost. Pitch selection is still critical.

So we talked about a number of different things within the hitting mindset or the hitting c on which we can improve our core group that are there. But first and foremost it's getting Polanco on the field, Marte on the field, getting Cervelli on the field, keeping them on the field. And the guys that are in play, I know Freese had talked about doing some things. He's working on some things this off-season to try and find a little bit more air with the ball. I think the group mindset is definitely one of being tougher outs, getting on base more often but also with more damage.

Q. Is David showing a willingness to listen on the launch angle type of idea?

Q. When you guys look ahead to 2018, what are some things you talked about that can possibly create some more offense, more runs for you?

CLINT HURDLE: First and foremost is our health. I said it all along, I said it from the end of the season through this point, it's getting the core group of men on the field with consistency. Outside of that, I think all players are continually looking to improve their game. I know throughout the season we had some conversations about truthfully launch angles, what goes into creating a better launch angle, a more consistent launch angle. You want to have guys that have bat-to-ball ability first and foremost. Pitch selection is still critical.

So we talked about a number of different things within the hitting mindset or the hitting c on which we can improve our core group that are there. But first and foremost it's getting Polanco on the field, Marte on the field, getting Cervelli on the field, keeping them on the field. And the guys that are in play, I know Freese had talked about doing some things. He's working on some things this off-season to try and find a little bit more air with the ball. I think the group mindset is definitely one of being tougher outs, getting on base more often but also with more damage.

Q. Is David showing a willingness to listen on the launch angle type of idea?

CLINT HURDLE: I think overall David actually brought it to us. You have conversations, you don't want to force feed anybody, but it's been ongoing. Players watch TV, players listen to other players. Players watch for the players that have success. J.D. Martinez started talking about it a couple years ago. Then with the success that Chris Taylor had, it became public. The information gets out. We all are aware that OPS isn't on the ground. We had a lot of hard contact numbers on ground balls, we're trying to find different ways to accentuate that ball-striking ability because you're not talking about changing anything dramatically, you're talking about a quarter inch catching a ball in a different area. A line drive versus a ground ball versus a fly ball versus a well-struck long fly ball.

So guys are open-minded, they're looking for improvement, we're all trying to work a little bit harder, get a little bit better.

Q. When you have that hard contact on a ground ball, does that tell you that that player is squaring the ball up, has his timing right to the point where they can then start to think about launch angle, as opposed to trying to jump to launch angle before?

CLINT HURDLE: That's one of the things we do talk about. It's still flushing a baseball. It's covering the back side of the baseball, not so much looking for back spin any more, just staying behind the ball. And some guys are talking, it's what makes most sense to them. Some guys talk about hitting the ball further out front, which is a term you really didn't want to use 10 years ago. You didn't talk about hitting the ball way out front. But the mindset has changed.

What we're looking for as far as results, it's a feel and then, as I think then it tries to become a fundamental or a technique or a mechanic. But you want to make sure that you're having conversation with everybody about what they're feeling, what they're seeing, and we believe with the ability of our guys, their ball-striking ability, number one, to make those subtle adjustments that it shouldn't be anything that we're trying to recreate a swing or redo a swing.

Q. What were your conversations like with Polanco when it came forward to looking to next year and what he needs to do with he is on the field when he is healthy to find more consistency?

CLINT HURDLE: One of the more in-depth conversations we had in exit interviews going out the door, what were you feeling through 2016, what did you feel through 2017, what were the things that you valued, what were the things you feel that you know what, I might have to redo some things. And first and foremost it was trying to find a way it reclaim that athleticism that he had coming up. Whether his focus was on getting big or getting strong, the combination of the two we do believe took away from some athleticism. How that played out in the overall stretching, component of his flexibility, did it play into the injuries, did it leak into, did it lead to injuries?

Redefining though his strength and conditioning program first and foremost. Then adding to it baseball drills. Baseball reps again. And that's one thing we try and make sure we leave all our guys with, it's there is a process involved in acquiring strength and acquiring flexibility to get ready, but I think sometimes we're getting so caught up in a training mindset that we lose the playing mindset. So there needs to be a combination of the two.

From the reports we're getting, there's a lot of good things going on over there right now with Gregory, he seems to be confident in the work that's being done, he seems to feel he's headed in the right direction.

Q. You talked to Neil the last couple days, he's mentioned that it's possible some of the younger starters could open the season in the bullpen. If that shakes out, how might that play out as you go through spring and what type of versatility would that offer you?

CLINT HURDLE: We have had the same conversations. Very fortunate last year we had five guys carry the bulk, the volume of the work from starting rotation. We had two other guys come into play and get some starts in Brault and Glasnow. The other five major carriers carried, covered. And I do think that there comes a point you want to honor the volume of work, the men that performed for us last year, the five in the rotation, we all need to be open-minded about the growth of the younger pitchers moving forward. It used to be a staple of baseball when you had young pitchers, you put them in the bullpen, you give them the ball. Sometimes they get stretched out that way. They've all been stretched out. The season usually presents opportunities for guys of that nature to cover three innings here and there. To cover a four-inning outing sometimes. And you can continue to help their development.

I do believe there comes that point in time we talked with Glasnow last year, where it's time for him to figure some things out here. Brault went and dominated the season he had in Triple-A. How much good can come out of, well, he doesn't make the rotation here, the question is do you want him to continue to start, do you give him that bullpen opportunity, because there is growth opportunity there still. You're getting Big League hitters out, you're figuring things out, you're finding another way to help your club win.

So it very well could play out that way that we have got some guys in-house candidates to perform that multiple-inning relief job and carry that for us.

Q. Is that specifically something that could help with Tyler considering the struggles he had as a starter, then he goes down and was by all accounts put everything together in the minors and then came back, I think it was a brief snapshot at the end of the season?

CLINT HURDLE: I think it could, and it's also just another opportunity to - I use this analogy - to rearrange the furniture in the room. He's still going to go out with the mindset of pitching and getting outs and throwing his pitches, however, it's a different -- there's not every-fifth-day-starting mentality. You're going out, you need to prepare, you need to be ready. A phone call you're up, 10 minutes later you're in the game, versus the four days of preparation. Could that help him? It very well could. We'll see.

Q. How much with Tyler do you think that struggles have been related to confidence as opposed to physical repetition, that kind of stuff with him?

CLINT HURDLE: There's that fine line in confidence, execution, what hinders the execution, what makes the execution inconsistent. I don't think there's any doubt, nothing bodes confidence like success and there could be times, at least I can say in my career, that a lack of success can impede your confidence at times. I was fortunate enough that I would have some guys in my life that would say, hey, this is the most challenging level to play at. This isn't going to be all giggles all the time over here and high fives. There's a learning curve that you've got to figure out. You do well at the Major League level you don't go up, you stay there until you don't do well. And you figure out how to do well.

Again, Tyler's trying to push through that point of putting his foot down and performing consistently at the Major League level. That's where his focus is. So it could play in, but we want to continue to provide him with opportunities that he's earned in our mind.

Q. Given all the information in the game today, do you think the modern-day player understands the game better than in previous generations or do they just simply look at it and talk about it differently?

CLINT HURDLE: I believe they look at it differently, they talk about it differently. There's parts of the game that I played that are really unexplored territory in today's game. We never left the dugout. Had nowhere to go. We didn't have a video to go up and run to or you talk to the guys next to you on how he got pitched. We didn't have the number of scouting reports.

I do believe on the other side of it there can be an overload of information and players can gravitate to more information when, okay, I got this, this kind of information, that didn't work, so give me some different information. Hope they get really good at is gathering information. Finding the right information, making it practical, making it useful, making it work for you is a challenge for every player. Today's player has more opportunities to do that. We still try and revisit the scoreboard as a template, not a tablet, as a template. So it's a different landscape.

But I do think the players -- I've learned more. There's things that I'm learning now that we really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to back when I played that can give you a competitive edge, can make you look at things from a different lens, maybe to evaluate players better, evaluate your opposition better, to pick up on tendencies of your opposition better. So it's ever-changing.

Q. We talked a lot about third base the last few days, right now it sounds like it's going to be sort of a group of players, a mixture of players. For you what's the sort of ideal mix? Do you still see Freese as maybe being the number one there or would Sean have an opportunity to sort of take that role, would somebody like Frazier have a chance to try to earn that starting spot?

CLINT HURDLE: Well, those are conversations I prefer to have with may players first, than to cook it up on a hot stove and say here we go, and then hit them back with, well, what I meant to say was -- no, I'm not going to do that. I've never done that. You've obviously had conversations with Neil on the thoughts. We do have in-house, players, personnel, that can go man the position of third base. I'm still working through our best strongest team, our best strongest defensive team, our best strongest offensive team. How that plays out. Are we best served with keeping Sean and Frazier more involved in the infield play than any type of outfield play?

David man's third base very well defensively. He picked us up in a big way last year. I think that needs to be represented and kept in mind as well. It doesn't look like Bell's going to need a whole lot of support at first base other than if he becomes unavailable to play. If he becomes unavailable to play, then David can slide over almost seamlessly, and take on some of that volume of work. The versatility's going to work in all their favors. It's going to find them more ample playing time.

I'm looking forward it seeing Sean Rodriguez back to what he looks like after a full year of recovery, rehab, strengthening. The guy that we joined our ballclub last year, it's amazing that he was on our ballclub. It's amazing that he played. It was a pretty amazing season he had the year before. We believe that guy's got a better chance of showing up than the guy that was so much fortitude and courage to go out and play, he probably wasn't in the most competitive place for himself physically to go out and play and he went out and played.

Frazier, I look forward to him getting a whole full off-season of strengthening and conditioning to see what he can bring as well. So I haven't made any decisions in ink or in stone as of yet.

Q. What have the reports been like on Marte that you received so far?

CLINT HURDLE: Talked to Starling, got some reports on Starling, slow go to start with. I give all the credit to Nesbitt. He went down and viewed him, he caught fire, one of his last acts of duty.

Starling is, the most important thing for me is he's still working, he's still looking to get better, he'll still wanting to get reps, wanting to get at-bats, wanting to come back in the best shape and game form, realizes better than any what it cost himself and the team to miss 80, and then try and find his way back in. The reports have been very, very good, very, very positive.

Q. What do you remember from the year plus that you coached Gabe Kapler in Colorado and what stood out to you about him? Did you ever think that you were managing a guy that could be a future manager?

CLINT HURDLE: The beauty of what we do is there's a bunch of guys that somewhere along the line they ask about me, Did you ever think Hurdle would be a Major League manager? I don't think they ever gave it a thought. I didn't give a thought if he would be a manager. I was trying to help him become the best player that he could be. He had come off some time in Texas where he had some success. We were trying to get him in a position to be that successful player in Colorado. Work ethic, preparation, competitive nature in the game, always jumped out with an edge.

So I've stayed in touch with Gabe over the years. I'm not surprised that he's had a trajectory within the game. He's forward thinker, he's a creative thinker, we have shared some thoughts and some funnies this off-season as he worked through the process, and as I tell many of these young men that get the first opportunity, welcome to the First Guesser's Club. I'm proud of him and happy for him.

Q. 2017 right from the giddy up when Jung-ho turned the ignition to that car, it was a year you guys just kept taking hits or at the end of the day, Taillon, right through the end of the year. Was this one of your most challenging seasons as a manager and then what do you take from this season and what do you just flush and just say I'm going to forget about that from 2017?

CLINT HURDLE: Good question. Very good question. The flush part of it, I was asked earlier, on the MLB Network and my response was, I understand what you mean by "flush", I still think you learn things you just don't maybe take put a lot of weight to them because the flush part of it, they're real. We had to work through them together. We would like to not have to work through any of those situations again. Some of them are in our control to not work through again. The ones that are out of our control I think you understand that and say, okay, that's a byproduct of life, that's a byproduct of the game, what did we do well through that process, how did we strengthen, how did we overcome, how did we help and support.

There are some things that at the end of the day that challenge individuals and a team and a clubhouse that you didn't have walking in the door. It's game of emotion, it's better when it's played with emotion than played emotionally. I think lessons can be learned along those lines for everybody. I do believe that there was a lot of opportunity for us to be tougher mentally, to be tougher physically moving forward. Based on what we went through together as a club.

Q. You obviously know McCutchen's personality better than anyone. When you moved him back to centerfield, did you sense he had an extra motivation to sort of prove wrong the metrics and the voices from outside your organization that maybe he was done as a centerfielder, and how do you think he played overall there?

CLINT HURDLE: I believe there's some truth in there. We all process negative information or negative feedback in different ways, some use it as motivation, some people get their feelings hurt. Some people feel sorry for themselves. Andrew's never felt sorry for himself. I think he's used any type of information that he's not something to his benefit.

But when we first started the conversations about the outfield deployment at that and how we were going to move, he was looking for one more shot, he said, I learned some things, some things I can do better. So in his mind he was never not a centerfielder. He was going to go play right field because it was in the best interests of the ballclub. When I went to him in St. Louis and asked him about how we're going to reshuffle, I told him if you want to stay in right field you can stay in right field. You've put your heart and soul into it. You've committed to it. I'm good. I'm honoring your -- you've taken one for the team, you've done this for the team. We hit him second. We moved him to right. How do you feel you're best served moving forward? Keep the team in mind. Keep yourself in mind. And he got back to me about three hours later. He said, I'll go back to centerfield.

And I do think there were things he felt he could improve on to become better. To use those opportunities where some things got pointed out to him that he wasn't doing that well from an industry standard from an analytics standard that he could improve on and he did. I was very proud of him of how he responded to the challenge.

Q. I'm not asking about your plans in general but do you still feel he can play centerfield for another year or two or a time period in the Major Leagues?

CLINT HURDLE: I do. And I as Neil and I have talked, our best outfield alignment moving forward in the next year will be Andrew in center, Polanco in right and Marte in left.

Q. Francisco Cervelli has since 2016 he's missed almost half the time, a long list of injuries. Not saying you can predict injuries but if necessary, are you comfortable with the Elias as an everyday catcher both offensively and defensively?

CLINT HURDLE: That's a great question. I was asking it in the room the other day, some of our in-house staff that hasn't got to see him, but looks at the analytics and I said yes, I believe he can be an everyday catcher. I believe that the bat's going to play. One of the things that gave me encouragement this year was the challenge of stepping in for Cervelli, when Cervelli was unplugged and down, and our commitment to him at the time. It was his time, he needed to be the next guy up. The opportunity of the game, the volume of games in front of him, the opportunity to work with the entire staff, the rotation as well as the bullpen, multiple looks, multiple catches, facing tough lineups, facing good ballclubs, the best competition that he ever had been a part of. And I thought he continued to get better each and every game each and every week. The street cred of catching three shutouts. The ability to throw some runners out. A little different dynamic to our CRG control the running game portion of it.

The bat part of him, which has been one of his blessings, was hard. They actually pitched him and they went after him. I think he learned some things offensively but he never let his bat leak into his glove. And the relationship development he was able to build with our entire staff, from Nova to Rivero, with everybody in between, could be invaluable moving forward for him as well. So I do have a lot of confidence. I have every confidence in him being able to be a guy, if need be, to be an everyday Big League catcher.

Q. If memory serves, the defense had a little trouble getting traction in April, and then kind of improved the rest of the way out. Is there anything you guys are able to do in spring to have that start a little more crisp?

CLINT HURDLE: We evaluate starts every offseason in different areas. And then what do you is you break down the errors - were they off the mound, in the infield, were they throwing or were they outfield. We had the deployment of three outfielders in three different spots, and they only played six games together, I think, in the Spring Training season. It's easy to say, well, they're all outfielders. Just send them out there they play, they should be able to figure it out. We didn't know Marte was in a different spot the first two weeks of the season possibly mentally because some things happened out there that was you don't know. We are talking about, as we have done in the past, the heightened, the level of challenge that comes with drill works, add speed to the drill work, add live baserunners to all the defensive drill work. Incorporate time sequences in the infield they have got to make a play and get it off in 4.2 or less seconds because Billy Hamilton's running.

So there's different ideas, Cora's got another handful of a few ideas. We got some defensive things. Bartee started to use last year and through attrition wasn't able to do it. Marte left, Polanco got hurt. McCutchen's the only outfielder. So yes, we're continually trying to look for new ways to challenge our guys because baseball's the one game that's very rarely practiced at game speed. It's the first place you can go and you should go when you look at developing skills and increasing better habits and game-time decisions.

Q. When you had your conversation with Andrew at the end of the season, did you get the sense that a better start offensively was something that he maybe entered the off-season with some motivation for to prove?

CLINT HURDLE: I think it would be kind of like hitting the first grand slam, I don't think he's got to prove it, I just think he wants to do it. And he talked about, yeah, the things he learned during this season. The challenges in the first two and a half months, the three months in between, how it all played out. What his mindset was, what he was feeling in his approach going in, and I think the comments were along the lines -- I was always looking for a feel in Spring Training. I've got the feel. I've got the program now, I just need to go in plug it in, get my reps and get ready to go. I think that was the conversation that we had at the end of the season. And again, I'll be looking forward to seeing what comes.

And that's what Spring Training -- because we have had good springs as a team and individually, but once Opening Day starts, where he's able to take it through April see what April brings us.

Q. Neil has talked about looking for a fourth outfielder this after season. Considering you had stretches last year where you had one bona fide Major League full-time outfielder on your active roster, how important do you rate finding an outfielder somewhere anywhere outside the organization?

CLINT HURDLE: Well, we're connected in our thoughts about what we want to do. It's identifying guys that can man the position. If they're external, do we have internal options. It goes back to my earlier comment, where's our emphasis going to be for a guy like Rodriguez or Frazier? Metrically Frazier showed up pretty well. I think your eye test would tell you that you know what, that one kind of catches you off guard when you go back and you think about it. Rodriguez looks like an outfielder when he's in the outfield. He had three or four games we ran him out back out to centerfield. It's not any stretch to think that he could play some outfield.

To have an outfielder, though, a guy that's got the experience to move around out there, I definitely think it's something that we're having very meaningful dialogue about.

Q. Are you not looking forward to seeing Ozuna a few more times a year?

CLINT HURDLE: Timing is so great. I got the news when I was on the on-deck circle for MLB Network. He's a good player. Had a big season. Again, though for us, and one of the I think the best lessons I've learned on the field, off the field and I share it with our players and I'll share it in Spring Training, it's very dangerous to compare. In any facets of life because two things can happen: Your pride gets in the way because your britches get big because you think you're better than somebody, or your feelings get hurt and you feel sorry for yourself.

Our focus needs to continues to be upon ourselves, getting us better, teams are going to add, teams are going to subtract. How can we be the best team we're going to be. I know it's a might sound like a pat answer but it works when you do it. And it's what we need to do more than anything else.

Q. Some of your focus is leadership and development these younger guys that got so much experience this year, are you pleased with how they have come along not on the field but off the field, the type of season you guys had, what that can do for a young player in terms of that kind of personal leadership development?

CLINT HURDLE: We had many opportunities for most of our roster at one time to go away and hide or isolate within the clubhouse. Our men not only continued to stand up and fight with each other for each other. The Pirate Charities Program continues to be one of the most aggressive positive programs I've ever been apart of, we have got individuals stepping up all over the place getting more involved every year in the community. I watched men have girlfriends that have turned to wives, and I watched those relationships grow and flourish and turn into families with children, and I watched them go out in the communities and establish foundations to help other people's children. It's impactful. They all have realized, too, through acts of service you really get out of yourself, when it's easy in this game to fall into that trap, and I think that I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the work that they're doing off the field.

There's one comment I share every spring that some of them cringe, but I remind them they're going to be ex-players much longer than they're going to be players. And you have an opportunity to build a foundation now as a player in the community within your own home first, and impact other people. And our guys took positive steps all over the place but to boil it down, to look at that young starting pitching with the exception of the elder statesman Nova, Cole, Taillon, to watch that growth throughout the season that's special. I've been in the game over 40 years and I don't know if I've seen three pitchers with two or less years Major League experience take the ball, do the things with the ball that those three guys did. And then have you Cole to do his thing, you have Nova do his thing, there's a reason I'm smiling a lot of times when other people aren't.

Q. What did Josh Bell's Rookie of the Year nod sort of mean to you as an organization and what do you kind of see his off-season work as being is it more kind of seeing if he can really tighten up the defensive work is it seeing how high his ceiling can go on the offensive side, what are you sort of hearing from him?

CLINT HURDLE: One of the more interesting players I've ever come across, very reflective with a different optic and a different lens than a lot of players I've ever had. We spent probably 30 minutes in conversation and a minute and a half of it was on his offense and he was the one he said here's what I got on my offense I did some good things I expect a lot out ever myself, I'm going to get things done more consistent fashion. Then he talked about his defensive work improving his arm angle what he learned about hitting in the lineup. Things that he's going to improve upon as a teammate. Just off the charts as far as awareness of his game, not just locked in. I'm hitting cleanup, I need to drive in this X number, I need to hit X number of home runs, I need to have better at-bats.

The grit to the kid and his focus, his ability to have a short memory for a rookie was very encouraging last year. We jumped two, three times a week, I said, you're getting close. You take that swing with no feet on the ground. You're coming out. You're getting a day off because he's the one guy that's taking a swing without having either foot on the ground, and then the next swing, barrel the ball 450 feet.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates would listen to trade offers for Cole

Bucs boast rotation depth but not actively shopping Opening Day starter
MLB.com @adamdberry

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees used a first-round Draft pick on Gerrit Cole in 2008, three years before the Pirates made Cole the first overall pick out of UCLA. Could Cole's career come full circle with a trade to New York?

The Yankees are interested in acquiring Cole, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported Monday, the first day of the Winter Meetings. That doesn't necessarily mean a trade is imminent, or even that one will take place this offseason, but the Pirates will listen to offers for their Opening Day starter.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees used a first-round Draft pick on Gerrit Cole in 2008, three years before the Pirates made Cole the first overall pick out of UCLA. Could Cole's career come full circle with a trade to New York?

The Yankees are interested in acquiring Cole, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported Monday, the first day of the Winter Meetings. That doesn't necessarily mean a trade is imminent, or even that one will take place this offseason, but the Pirates will listen to offers for their Opening Day starter.

The Bucs won't shop Cole this winter, just as they didn't actively try to unload Andrew McCutchen last winter, because Cole has two years of club control remaining. There is no urgency to make a deal, and Cole's salary -- projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to be $7.5 million next season -- is reasonable.

But if the Pirates choose to rebuild around their young core, rather than the current group headed by Cole and McCutchen, this would be a reasonable time to field offers for both and maximize their potential return.

After bolstering their lineup with reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees are seeking a starter. Why not Cole, a childhood Yankees fan and clearly someone they've liked in the past? The Stanton trade left them with a surplus of young outfielders, including former top prospect Clint Frazier, and they have a deep farm system to trade from.

Dealing Cole would leave the Pirates with a hole atop their rotation, but they have plenty of depth. Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow will all return next year. Nick Kingham and Clay Holmes will begin next season in Triple-A, and top pitching prospect Mitch Keller is not far behind in Double-A.

The Pirates have openly discussed the likelihood that their rotation depth will force at least one qualified starter into the Opening Day bullpen.

"I guess a natural transition is, if we were able to have an opportunity to utilize one of our starters -- be it one of our young starters, one of our veteran starters -- in a trade that we thought made the organization better, I would think that would make sense for us," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

After an injury-marred 2016, Cole bounced back with a healthy but inconsistent season. The 27-year-old righty finished 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, 196 strikeouts and a career-high 31 homers allowed in 203 innings.

Video: Adam Berry on Cole's rollercoaster 2017 season

Around the horn
• The Pirates claimed shortstop Engelb Vielma off waivers from the Phillies. Since September, Vielma has been claimed by San Francisco, Philadelphia and now Pittsburgh. If he remains in the organization, the 23-year-old infielder will begin next season in Triple-A.

Regarded as a strong defensive shortstop, Vielma owns a career .256/.316/.302 slash line in the Minors, but Huntington said the Pirates see "hitter traits" in the switch-hitting infielder. They now have 38 players on their 40-man roster.

"Our guys like the athlete, and they think it's an interesting player to take a chance on," Huntington said.

• Huntington said the Pirates have not limited their search for bullpen help to left-handers. That would seem to be the best fit, however, as closer Felipe Rivero is the only experienced lefty reliever on their 40-man roster.

Brault could be an option for the bullpen. Huntington said the Pirates "want to respect the body of work" from their five primary starters last season -- Cole, Nova, Taillon, Kuhl and Williams -- but they won't "close the door" on someone like Brault or Glasnow cracking the Opening Day rotation.

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole

Closer to hone: Bucs forming offseason plans

Pittsburgh deciding between full rebuild, minor tweaks entering Winter Meetings
MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Now, perhaps, the Pirates' offseason plans will come into sharper focus.

It has been more than two months since the Bucs' season ended. That time has been filled with meetings, staffing changes and minor transactions. But for the most part, the Pirates have been bystanders in an offseason dominated by two names: Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Now, perhaps, the Pirates' offseason plans will come into sharper focus.

It has been more than two months since the Bucs' season ended. That time has been filled with meetings, staffing changes and minor transactions. But for the most part, the Pirates have been bystanders in an offseason dominated by two names: Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton.

Pittsburgh made its best bid for Ohtani, the two-way Japanese superstar who wound up signing with the Angels. They watched two National League competitors vie for Stanton's massive power, then saw him land with the Yankees. But now that general manager Neal Huntington and the rest of the front office has arrived in Florida for the Winter Meetings, maybe the Pirates will get in on the action.

"We've got the same mindset going in that we established once the month of October was over," manager Clint Hurdle said Saturday. "We analyzed. We evaluated. We set targets of people that we like. We know teams that are in need, where we have a surplus.

"We're ready to go in. We'll listen and we'll watch, and we'll see what happens."

Hot Stove Tracker

The Winter Meetings officially begin Monday morning and run through the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, and the Pirates' direction remains unclear. Will they fortify their existing roster, confident that only minor tweaks on the margins will be enough to contend next season? Or will they rebuild?

Either way, there will be plenty of action during the coming days. Huntington will hold a daily briefing with the press, and Hurdle will address the media on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. ET. That coverage will appear daily on Pirates.com, and you can follow for updates on Twitter @adamdberry.

The Pirates left last year's meetings with only Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Webb, who was eventually returned to the Yankees. But they also went home with Andrew McCutchen, despite strong interest from the Nationals.

Coming off two consecutive losing seasons, what could the Pirates add to make another run to the postseason with McCutchen, entering his final year of club control? Most of their improvement must come from within, but they could use more power, a left-handed reliever and maybe a true fourth outfielder.

Rumors and reports have connected them to infielder Neil Walker, reliever Xavier Cedeno and starter Jaime Garcia, but it's important to remember -- especially as the speculation ramps up this week -- that the Pirates do their due diligence on just about every available player who might fill a need.

As quiet as the past two months have been, the Hot Stove buzz can amplify in a hurry at the Winter Meetings. Over the next four days, we'll see what kind of noise the Pirates are looking to make.

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates

Parker misses out on Baseball HOF

Former Bucs, Reds great didn't receive necessary 12 votes
MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For all his career accomplishments, the Cobra is not heading to Cooperstown.

Dave Parker was up for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the 16-member Modern Baseball Era Committee, which announced its latest class Sunday night before the start of the Winter Meetings. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were elected into the Hall of Fame, but Parker did not receive the necessary 12 votes to join them among the game's immortals next summer.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For all his career accomplishments, the Cobra is not heading to Cooperstown.

Dave Parker was up for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the 16-member Modern Baseball Era Committee, which announced its latest class Sunday night before the start of the Winter Meetings. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were elected into the Hall of Fame, but Parker did not receive the necessary 12 votes to join them among the game's immortals next summer.

The Modern Era Committee was created to consider retired Major Leaguers no longer eligible for election to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America along with managers, umpires and executives whose greatest contributions to the game came from 1970-87.

Parker was listed on the Modern Baseball Era ballot alongside Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Morris, Dale Murphy, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, Trammell and Marvin Miller, the longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Parker spent 11 seasons of his 19-year big league career with the Pirates, four more with the Reds and two with the A's before bouncing through Milwaukee, California and Toronto. He slugged 339 career home runs and drove in 1,493 runs while totaling 2,712 hits and batting .290 with an .810 OPS, well above average for his career peers.

The right fielder's peak came with the Pirates, as he won consecutive batting titles (1977-78) and the '78 National League Most Valuable Player Award before helping the "We Are Family" Bucs capture a World Series championship in '79.

Parker's peak extended beyond Pittsburgh, however. He was twice named an All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner while logging two top-five NL MVP finishes in 1985-86 for Cincinnati. He earned the last of his seven All-Star nods with the Brewers in 1990, when he hit .289 with 21 homers and 89 RBIs at 39 years old.

The Cobra was not a one-dimensional slugger, though, following in the legacy of Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente as an all-around player, something he demonstrated with his three Gold Glove Awards.

"There was a stretch where nobody in the game was better. Hands down, Dave was the best all-around player," former pitcher Jim Rooker said recently. "When he was at his best, teams just couldn't figure out a way to get him out. Plus, his defensive skills were outstanding. There are guys in the Hall of Fame totally because of their offense. But Dave was a complete player."

Parker spent 15 years on the BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot. His candidacy peaked in 1998, his second year on the ballot, when he received 24.5 percent of the vote. His final year on the ballot came in 2011, when he received 15.3 percent of the vote.

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

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

Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates

McCutchen's status a hot topic at PiratesFest

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- With the Winter Meetings drawing near, the buzz at PiratesFest on Saturday at PNC Park was less about what the Pirates should bring in and more about who they shouldn't move out. Namely, Andrew McCutchen.

Pirates management held two question-and-answer sessions with fans and a handful of players met the media during Saturday's events. Fans' questions focused on keeping McCutchen, bound to be the subject of more trade rumors next week, and players offered a sense of satisfaction with the group they have despite last season's disappointing 75-87 record.

PITTSBURGH -- With the Winter Meetings drawing near, the buzz at PiratesFest on Saturday at PNC Park was less about what the Pirates should bring in and more about who they shouldn't move out. Namely, Andrew McCutchen.

Pirates management held two question-and-answer sessions with fans and a handful of players met the media during Saturday's events. Fans' questions focused on keeping McCutchen, bound to be the subject of more trade rumors next week, and players offered a sense of satisfaction with the group they have despite last season's disappointing 75-87 record.

"As of right now I don't think we need anything," closer Felipe Rivero said.

"I don't think there's any drastic changes we need," added starter Jameson Taillon. "I think we need to own up and play better, to be honest."

Tweet from @Pirates: Nbd...just hanging with @JTaillon19#PiratesFest pic.twitter.com/gVP6Jmv5Zb

Veteran utility man Sean Rodriguez said the Pirates could add to their roster, but he wondered if they would have to subtract players (and payroll) to do so.

"Are we getting rid of guys? Are we trying to get back? I understand the whole business side, where it's, 'This guy is making this much and we can get [something in return],'" Rodriguez said. "If we're trying to do that, it's tough to say what we would need."

With payroll obligations already pushing $100 million or more, could the Pirates afford to add around McCutchen again without cutting off another core piece? Team president Frank Coonelly acknowledged the club's small-market limitations, putting the onus on himself for not generating more revenue, but he told fans their payroll is "not stuck at any artificial number."

Rodriguez went out of his way to say he was not criticizing general manager Neal Huntington, who reacquired Rodriguez in August. He pointed to Starling Marte's suspension as a major issue for the Bucs in 2017, and manager Clint Hurdle stressed the idea that absences and injuries -- including Marte, Jung Ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco -- were the primary cause of Pittsburgh's second straight sub-.500 season.

But Rodriguez said the lack of a consistent core was also an issue in 2016, when the Pirates finished 78-83. They traded second baseman Neil Walker and non-tendered first baseman Pedro Alvarez before that season, and then dealt closer Mark Melancon before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"A big piece of the core was chipped off," Rodriguez said. "It plays a huge factor. You can't eliminate something that's moving in a certain direction and take a big piece off of it. Can it work? Sometimes, but it's a low percentage. That's just the way it is.

"Hopefully, we've got enough building up that core that it doesn't matter. That's what my mindset is -- to keep that core strong under any circumstances, those pillars that are holding everything up."

Video: Rodriguez discusses playing hurt last season

The longest-standing pillar in Pittsburgh's clubhouse is McCutchen, who will earn $14.5 million this season on a club option. McCutchen will be a free agent this time next year, and Huntington reiterated on Saturday the challenges of extending McCutchen while fielding a competitive team. They entertained offers for him last offseason and figure to do so again next week at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

But the Pirates could bet on better health and improvements from within -- especially from their young pitching staff -- and hang on to McCutchen heading into next season.

"I guess that's on us, then, to win," Rodriguez said. "If you're winning, they try to hold on."

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen

Rivero aiming to sign long-term deal with Bucs

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates closer Felipe Rivero says he lets his sister, Priscilla, handle most of his offseason business. She could be busy next week.

Rivero said his agent at Magnus Sports will speak with the Pirates front office on Monday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. One possible topic of conversation? A long-term contract that keeps him in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates closer Felipe Rivero says he lets his sister, Priscilla, handle most of his offseason business. She could be busy next week.

Rivero said his agent at Magnus Sports will speak with the Pirates front office on Monday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. One possible topic of conversation? A long-term contract that keeps him in Pittsburgh.

"I want to stay here for a little bit. It's a good city to stay," Rivero said Saturday morning while attending PiratesFest at PNC Park. "I feel comfortable being here, so I want to be here a couple of years."

There is not much urgency to complete a deal, as Rivero is nowhere near free agency. He is under club control for four more seasons and projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to earn $3.1 million next season, his first year of arbitration eligibility.

In this case, a long-term agreement could involve buying out some or all of Rivero's arbitration-eligible seasons -- or the two sides could find themselves far apart on a deal and play out the process year by year. A guaranteed contract would provide certainty on both sides, however.

For Rivero, it would remove any short-term concerns about his contract; he wouldn't have to worry about going to an arbitration hearing or being non-tendered in the event of a serious injury or ineffective stretch. For the Pirates, it would provide cost certainty for the core piece of their bullpen; they could budget around Rivero and plan around his salary going forward while potentially saving some money with the trade-off of a guaranteed contract.

Rivero said he will "probably talk" to his agent on Tuesday, after the meeting takes place. Rivero recently changed agencies, leaving Scott Boras to join agent Francis Marquez and Magnus Sports. That decision was also made, he said, by his older sister.

"They need to represent my whole family, so it's not just me as a baseball player," Rivero said. "So it was a good sign, and my sister was pretty happy. … She knows everything."

Around the horn

• Pirates management, including president Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington, told fans at PiratesFest that they don't expect third baseman Jung Ho Kang to return in 2018. Kang remains in South Korea, unpaid and on the Bucs' restricted list, unable to acquire a work visa following a December 2016 arrest for driving under the influence.

"I think that's been a real thought for quite some time now," added manager Clint Hurdle.

Video: Bucs manager Hurdle on analytics, pitching style

Hurdle said he intends to call Kang, who was released by his Dominican Winter League team last month, at some point this offseason. The Pirates began planning for life without Kang last season and addressed a need in the infield by trading for veteran Sean Rodriguez in August.

• The Mets may speak to the Pirates at the Winter Meetings about making a trade for infielder Josh Harrison, according to a Newsday report. Harrison, a 2017 All-Star, is under contract for $10.25 million next season with club options for 2019 and '20.

Andrew McCutchen was not at PiratesFest on Saturday, but Rodriguez said he visited on Friday with Pittsburgh's franchise player and his two-week-old son, the aptly named Steel.

"You're basically looking at the prince of Pittsburgh," Rodriguez said. "One thing I know about Pittsburghers is they're very sports-oriented, so … yeah, I guess you could say he's kind of a prince."

Video: Rodriguez discusses playing hurt last season

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

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Felipe Rivero

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.

• Hot Stove Tracker

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.

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

Pittsburgh Pirates