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Reported Volquez signing gives Pirates options

Deal with righty apparently worth $5 million, allowing Bucs to spend elsewhere

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Pirates' search for a veteran starter has found a match. No, it's not A.J. Burnett.

The Pirates have agreed to a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million with right-hander Edinson Volquez, a free agent who pitched last year for the Padres and Dodgers. The Pirates have not announced or confirmed a deal is in place.

On a day when they signed Charlie Morton to a contract extension, the Pirates at last made some news on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, and it's evident they'll still have some work to do once they leave the annual convention of baseball's decision-makers on Thursday.

With Volquez coming into the fold with the Bucs, he becomes another bounce-back project for the team that a year ago signed Francisco Liriano and saw him pitch his way to National League Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Volquez burst onto the Major League scene in 2008 with the Reds, going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA after being dealt to Cincinnati from Texas in a trade involving Josh Hamilton. Since then, Volquez has struggled with injury and command, his ERA hitting 5.71 while allowing an NL-high 108 earned runs with the Padres and Dodgers last year.

Earlier on Wednesday, before reports of a Volquez signing emerged, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington spoke in generalities about how that type of project might be what the Pirates get in a pitching market that has seen the price on some top targets rise by the day.

"We'll continue to look for that type of guy, and especially as this market continues to do what it's doing, we're going to have to continue to work to find guys that maybe could have bounce-back years in Pittsburgh," Huntington said.

Whether a Volquez signing would mean the end of Burnett's tenure in Pittsburgh remains to be seen, but the dollars reportedly allocated to the 30-year-old Volquez suggest that it might.

Burnett, who will turn 37 in January, said in October that he planned to think awhile about whether he wanted to retire or return in 2014, saying at one point the Pirates would be the only alternative to retirement. The Pirates came to the Winter Meetings still awaiting that decision, working toward other plans in the rotation.

The signing of Volquez at the dollar amount reported could have an impact on the other main need on the Pirates' wish list: first base.

The Pirates' main target there reportedly has been free agent James Loney, a left-handed batter with a quality glove. Loney is said to be looking for a three-year deal in the $27-30 million range, an area perceived to be out of range for the Bucs. It still might be, but if Volquez is the rotation answer, it's possible more resources could be available for first.

Again speaking in generalities and not specifically about Loney, Huntington said the club would be willing to offer three years to a free agent if it makes sense overall.

"Right player, right deal, the contract length isn't a deterrent," Huntington said. "It's the quality of the deal, the quality of the player, the quality of the person, the match. We haven't not gone three years in the past because we've been afraid of three years. We've not gone three years in the past because we haven't found the right guy to go three years with."

Also, the market at first base was altered Wednesday when the Mariners traded for Logan Morrison -- one of a handful of left-handed-hitting first basemen connected to the Pirates in trade rumors. The Mariners also signed free agent Corey Hart, formerly of the Brewers. Those moves in turn might put switch-hitter Justin Smoak on the market.

"It takes a couple of guys off the market and it may put one back on. We don't know exactly what their thought process is, but in our minds, there's still some strike to [the market]," Huntington said. "And, as we said yesterday, if we end up with Gaby Sanchez [as the everyday first baseman], we have comfort that some others don't. We respect and appreciate that, but we'll continue to look at something we think is better."

That search and the rotation issue might not be wrapped by Thursday, when the Winter Meetings conclude with the Rule 5 Draft and the club's brain trust heads back to Pittsburgh.

While the club has a few players that might be targeted by other clubs -- right-handed reliever Zack Thornton is one name that has been mentioned -- Huntington said he does not anticipate drafting a player, especially with their 40-man roster at its limit and the Pirates picking 26th thanks to their 2013 success.

"The guys we do have interest in, our belief is they probably don't get to us, and to clear a spot for a guy who doesn't get to us may not make a whole lot of sense," Huntington said.

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