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MLB Winter Meetings: Pirates Hunt For Starting Pitching, Shortstop

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Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings begin on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Here's an idea what to expect as the Pirates attempt to piece together a roster for the 2011 season.

There's nothing preventing the Pirates from not doing anything this week and waiting until later in the offseason to add players, but in practice, the Winter Meetings are where a lot of deals get done. The Bucs have already jettisoned pitcher Zach Duke, outfielder Lastings Milledge, third baseman Andy LaRoche and bench hitter Delwyn Young this offseason, and they have several roster spots open, so we might finally see some action.

In particular, the Pirates will continue to look for a starting pitcher. They made a serious offer to Jorge De La Rosa before he re-signed with the Rockies, but most of the arms with whom the Pirates have been connected have been of the lightning-in-a-bottle variety - mostly pitchers like Brandon Webb or Justin Duchscherer who stand a chance to pitch well while on incentive-based and relatively cheap deals that they'll have to sign because they were injured last year. The idea is that one of them could use a year in Pittsburgh to prove to the rest of baseball that they're healthy, then sign a multi-year deal somewhere else.

The departure of Lastings Milledge suggests that the Pirates will also be in the market for a corner outfielder or first baseman. They already asked about Lance Berkman, who ended up signing with the Cardinals, and they're also reportedly interested in lower-profile options like Jack Cust and Matt Diaz.

The Bucs could also seek a new shortstop - not only because incumbent Ronny Cedeno didn't really get it done with the bat last year, but because a defensive upgrade pretty much anywhere on the diamond could help their starting pitchers significantly. The Twins' J.J. Hardy is by far the best option available, but there's also the Rays' Jason Bartlett and the Cardinals' Brendan Ryan. All three would have to be acquired through trade rather than through free agency.

Also, don't be surprised if the Pirates are connected to a reliever or two by the time the week is out.

Finally, the Pirates have the first pick in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. The Rule 5 is mostly an excuse for hardcore fans to geek out and not necessarily a place to expect the Pirates to get great talent, because teams rarely have to leave high-profile prospects unprotected. But big-name players, such as Johan Santana and Roberto Clemente, are occasionally selected. The Pirates have repeatedly been connected to Rays starter Aneury Rodriguez, so that's one name to keep in mind, but most Rule 5-eligible players are so obscure that the draft is rarely predictable. It wouldn't be a shock if the Pirates took someone who isn't popping up on any of the lists, like this excellent one over at Bucs Dugout. The Bucs also could select two players, which doesn't happen often.

Key storylines around baseball to keep an eye on include the potential signings of Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford and the potential trades of Zach Greinke and Adrian Gonzalez.

Keep checking back for more updates from throughout the Winter Meetings.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.