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Pirates arrive at Winter Meetings ready to talk deals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pirates' predicament of a record string of losing seasons is sort of like the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the cavernous site of baseball's Winter Meetings: Easy to get into, not so easy to find your way out.

Pittsburgh's sizable contingent is here, ready to tackle both exit strategies. Led by general manager Neal Huntington, the club's entire baseball operations department has arrived and fanned out to the Gaylord's hallways and byways, engaging representatives of other teams in the small talk that often blooms into big deals.

Truthfully, the Pirates figure to do more answering than asking. Teams are intrigued by the perceived availability of closer Joel Hanrahan, who will approach a salary of $7 million in his final arbitration year and become a free agent after 2013. Even though they are without two other key relievers from this past season -- Jason Grilli is a free agent and Chris Resop was dealt to Oakland -- the Bucs feel better equipped to restock the bullpen and may be interested in turning Hanrahan into a needed starting pitcher.

In the pinball milieu of the Winter Meetings, they'll bounce off those bumpers to player agents selling their clients -- and in turn will do selling of their own.

Manager Clint Hurdle, who spent a lot of time this past season addressing how the Pirates had made over their image, will deliver that sermon in person Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET, when he meets the national media. As with everything else happening at the Meetings, plus all the scheming below the surface, we'll fill you in on Hurdle's message.

It does not figure to be much different than what it was in mid-summer, when his Bucs were on one of the Majors' better rides (they were the fifth team in the big leagues to reach 60 wins, on Aug. 1).

"Our street cred is picking up," Hurdle said. "The conversations you have with opposing players and managers about their perceptions ... we're gaining traction within the industry."

Most recently, the Pirates also gained Russell Martin. Signing the free-agent catcher to a two-year contract filled arguably Pittsburgh's biggest hole. Plenty of potholes remain. The Martin deal did "not change our game plan for the Winter Meetings at all," Huntington said.

As a work in progress, the Bucs have already put in a lot of work this offseason. Gone from the season-finale roster are Rod Barajas, Yamaico Navarro, Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls, Jeff Karstens, Resop and Grilli. Headlined by Martin, newcomers also include pitchers Chad Beck, Vin Mazzaro and first baseman Clint Robinson.

Be sure to check this site around the clock for all the Winter Meetings happenings -- actual and rumored. And feel free to use the comments section below for your input on what you'd like to see the Pirates do, and questions you would like to have answered.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Joel Hanrahan, Russell Martin