By John Perrotto
The Pirates say they are making inquiries about various starting pitchers on the free-agent market primarily to add depth to their staff.
However, there have been strong indications in recent days that the Pirates are shopping for another starting pitcher because they are willing to trade left-hander Zach Duke, who was selected to his first All-Star Game last season.
The Pirates have opted not to try to sign Duke to a multi-year contract extension as they did Paul Maholm last winter and are looking to sell high on the 26-year-old following his All-Star season.
Duke was 8-8 with a 3.29 ERA in 18 starts at the All-Star break. However, he finished 11-16 with a 4.06 ERA after going 3-8 with a 5.17 ERA in 14 starts in the second half.
The Pirates will go to the winter meeting, which begin Monday in Indianapolis, not looking to deal Duke for someone at one specific position. Instead, the Pirates want to see what kind of package of prospects he might fetch.
Meanwhile, the Pirates’ primary trade target in Indianapolis will be Tampa Bay shortstop prospect Reid Brignac. The Pirates tried to get Brignac in a trade for Jason Bay last year and his name cameup in trade talks last month when they eventually landed second baseman Akinori Iwamura for reliever Jesse Chavez.
The Pirates have tried to get the Rays interested in Duke and closer Matt Capps. The Rays could use a closer, they are leery of Capps after he posted a 5.80 ERA in 54 1/3 innings last season.
Brignac, 23, has played 35 games with the Rays over the last two seasons, hitting .250 with one home run. With Class AAA Durham last season, he hit .282 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 96 games.
The Pirates have been linked to left-hander Noah Lowry and right-hander Justin Duchscherer on the free-agent market and have also expressed interest in right-hander Rich Harden.
Harden, 28, has outstanding talent but has been hampered by injuries throughout most of his seven-year career. He has not made more than 26 starts or pitched 148 innings in a season since his first full year in the major leagues in 2004. Harden was 9-9 with a 4.08 ERA in 26 starts with the Chicago Cubs last season.
However, the Pirates have plenty of competition for Harden. Boston, Minnesota and Seattle are among the teams are interested in him.
The Pirates also have interest in right-hander Daniel Cabrera but only if he would agree to a minor-league contract. Cabrera, 29, has long been noted for having a great arm but getting little results. He was a combined 0-6 with a 6.00 ERA in 15 games, nine starts, with Washington and Arizona last season and has a 48-65 career record with a 5.10 ERA in six seasons.