Pirates happy but not done with offseason moves

Neil Walker is hardly bothered the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t

been exactly been lighting up the rumor mill over the last few

months. If anything, the second baseman sees it as a sign of just

how far the club has come.

”The good thing about this offseason is that we weren’t looking

to upgrade at six, seven different spots as we have,” Walker said

Friday. ”We knew we were going to get a couple arms from a starter

standpoint, knew we were looking for a catcher to go with (Mike

McKenry). I think we upgraded very well. You’ve got to like what

you’re looking at on paper.”

The Pirates landed three-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin

and re-signed veteran setup man Jason Grilli. Other than that, the

moves have been minor. Walker doesn’t view that as an issue.

”We’re going to roll with what we’ve got and we’re excited

about the additions we’ve made,” Walker said.

Besides, it’s unlikely Pittsburgh is done. Though general

manager Neal Huntington is happy with the moves the team has made

he’s expects to stay busy before the first full squad workout in

Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 15.

”We still have some irons in the fire, and at the same time we

feel good about what we are,” Huntington said.

The biggest item at the top of Huntington’s offseason list was

finding a catcher. Veteran Rod Barajas did wonders with the

pitching staff but struggled at the plate and behind it, throwing

out just 6 percent (6 of 101) base runners attempting to steal and

hitting just .206 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 106 games.

The 29-year-old Martin is still in his prime, though his batting

average dipped to a career-low .211 last season with the New York

Yankees. The two-year deal also gives Martin a little time to

settle in and Huntington is confident the hitting woes that plagued

Martin are a thing of the past.

”He’s a better hitter than that,” Huntington said. ”He’s

going to grind out at bats, which is going to help us get into

opponent’s bullpens. He’s an athlete on the bases. We feel like

he’s a significant upgrade offensively and defensively.”

Grilli’s return also gives the back end of the bullpen some

stability and flexibility. The 36-year-old has been one of the

better late-inning relievers in the league since signing with

Pittsburgh in July, 2011. While he’s never been a closer, Grilli

could find himself thrust into the role if Pittsburgh move two-time

All-Star Joel Hanrahan, who is likely due a hefty raise in

arbitration.

Hanrahan is also the team’s most valuable – and tradable –

asset, perhaps the biggest chip they have in trying to find some

help in the starting rotation. Pittsburgh is set on a top three of

A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald but at the moment

has youngsters Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson penciled in for the

fourth and fifth spots. The Pirates would like to throw an

established starter in the mix and hope Charlie Morton recovers

from elbow ligament-replacement surgery. Morton is expected to be

out until at least June.

The plans, at the moment, do not include rushing 2011 No. 1

draft pick Gerrit Cole to the majors. The right-hander was

spectacular at times last season and will get a chance to impress

in spring training, but Huntington refuses to put any sort of

timetable on when Cole will make it to Pittsburgh.

While finding a new home for Hanrahan could help the Pirates in

the long-term, it could also affect clubhouse chemistry. The burly

Hanrahan is popular with his teammates, and Pittsburgh’s swoons in

2011 and 2012 came after the team made a handful of moves to try to

stay in playoff contention. The moves, however, didn’t pan out and

Huntington allows it may disrupted the positive vibes.

”Did we disrupt chemistry?” Huntington said. ”Any time you

make a move, that’s certainly something you take into

consideration.”

The Pirates went 79-83 in 2012, tied for the club’s best record

in 20 years. The season, however, wasn’t a steady assault on .500

but a roller coaster ride. Pittsburgh was 16 games over .500 in

August before going into freefall. Take the long view and the

Pirates were 22 games better in 2012 than they were in 2010, when

they had the worst record in baseball.

The short view, however, requires acknowledgment the Pirates

stumbled badly when things got tight. Walker – who missed large

portions of the final two months with back problems – takes

responsibility for the collapse but also insists it is part of the

process.

”We all need to be better, we all need to be more prepared but

experience is such a huge factor in that,” Walker said. ”You have

to go through these growing pains. You have to.”

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP