By John Perrotto
The Pirates’ brain trust is in back-to-the-drawing-board mode as they head to baseball’s Winter Meetings, which begin Monday morning at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Pirates’ grand plan to significantly upgrade their roster fell through last week when left-hander Jorge De La Rosa rejected a three-year, $31.5 million offer as a free agent and re-signed with the Colorado Rockies, and the Minnesota Twins backed out of a trade that would have shipped shortstop J.J. Hardy to Pittsburgh.
After losing out on De La Rosa, who topped their off-season wish list, the Pirates are left to pursue a number of free-agent starting pitchers who are coming off injuries. They are close to a deal with left-hander Scott Olsen and also have interest in left-hander Jeff Francis and right-handers Justin Duchscherer and Brandon Webb.
Olsen was limited to 28 games and 26 starts over the last two seasons with the Washington Nationals. Francis has eight wins in the last three seasons combined since having a 17-win season for the Colorado Rockies in 2007, a team managed by current Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle. Duchscherer has started a total of five games in the last two seasons for the Oakland Athletics. Webb has not pitched in a major-league game since starting on opening day in 2009 for Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Pirates would still like to upgrade at shortstop, though they re-signed Ronny Cedeno after the Hardy trade fell through and their outside options are now limited. They have at least some interest in St. Louis’ Brendan Ryan, a slick fielder with a questionable bat, who became expendable last week when the Cardinals acquired Ryan Theriot from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Outfielder Matt Diaz is another free agent the Pirates are pursuing after he was not tendered a contract by the Atlanta Braves last Thursday. The right-handed hitting Diaz has a .301 career batting average in eight major-league seasons and has hit left-handed pitchers at a .335 clip.
The Pirates also hold the first pick in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft that ends the meetings by virtue of having the worst record in the major leagues last season at 57-105. The Pirates have their eye on hard-throwing right-hander Wynn Pelzer, who has been left unprotected by the Baltimore Orioles.