Neal Huntington was on MLB Network Radio, and told Jim Bowden that the team is looking to add a starting pitcher, a bullpen arm, and a position player. That’s not really ground breaking, as it covers pretty much every possibility.
The starting pitcher might be a surprise with the way the rotation has been performing. However, the Pirates don’t really have much depth. Ross Ohlendorf is returning from an injury, and probably won’t return until early August. Brad Lincoln looked good in his one start this year, but is unproven. Justin Wilson has put up good numbers, despite some control issues, but has yet to make a major league start. The Pirates have been lucky to avoid the injury bug with their starting rotation. At the same time, that’s led to a situation where most of their starters are nearing their 2010 inning totals, which could lead to some struggles down the stretch.
We’ve seen the Pirates connected to Kevin Slowey of the Minnesota Twins. We also heard today that Koji Uehara is on their radar, and while he’s currently a bullpen option, he has experience and success in recent years as a starter.
As for the bullpen, we heard a lot of possible names today. The big issue is going to be the cost. Guys like Heath Belland Mike Adams might cost a top prospect, and maybe more. Then again, we’ve heard that the market for relievers is more of a buyer’s market, which could allow the Pirates to add a top set-up man for cheap. They could add a guy like Chad Qualls or Jason Grilli a bit easier, although Qualls wouldn’t be any different than what the Pirates have in Chris Resop and Jose Veras, and Grilli would be more of a depth option, with the chance of being a strong middle reliever.
As for position players, the big question is, will the Pirates make a splash, or will they go with some low key options. They’ve been linked to Hunter Pence, but Pence would cost a lot in prospects. The Pirates run a risk if they make such a move, as they potentially trade a lot of long term help for one guy that is here for two years. Earlier today I talked about how that might not be in their best interest, especially with Alex Presley playing so well right now (in a small sample of games), and with Jose Tabata being far from a finished product. You could almost make the argument for the Pirates to stick with Tabata and Presley, and avoid paying the farm for Pence.
The low-key options we’ve heard of are Josh Willingham and Conor Jackson, both out of Oakland. Jackson would be a strong defensive first baseman, although he hasn’t been hitting since 2008, and would seem like more of a bench option, similar to the role that the returning Steve Pearce could fill. Willingham has some power, but I wouldn’t want him as a starter, as his defense is poor, making the Presley/Tabata combination (when Tabata eventually returns) a much better option. He would basically be an upgrade on the bench over a guy like Matt Diaz. The problem with Willingham is that his numbers are also down, and while he plays in a tough pitcher’s park in Oakland, his numbers on the road have been worse.
In either case, the Pirates wouldn’t have to give up much in prospects, and would be spending money to get their returns. It almost seems that they would be hoping for each player to bounce back: Jackson to his 2008 form, and Willingham to his 2009 form. If either event happened, the Pirates could end up with an upgrade at a steal of a price. If Willingham and/or Jackson continued to struggle, the Pirates would have just added dead weight.