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By Chad Carlson
Among the stories surrounding the Steelers and Penguins, which dominate the Pittsburgh media, the Pirates have been relatively busy this week.  Of course, the Winter Meetings were held this week in Dallas, and even though heading into the week, the Bucs were expected to be relatively quiet from an acquisition standpoint, the club actually made a number of moves over the past couple days.
Let’s summarize the moves the team made this week.  The Pirates signed Nate McLouth, whom they traded to Atlanta in 2009.  They also inked a deal with Erik Bedard, and DFA’d Jason Jaramillo and Pedro Ciriaco.  Ross Ohlendorf, to no one’s surprise, was released this week as well, while the Pirates also acquired Yamaico Navarro from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for two minor leaguers, pitcher Brooks Pounders and infielder Diego Goris. 
Of course, these moves follow the team’s acquisitions of shortstop Clint Barmes and catcher Rod Barajas earlier in the offseason.  The team has cut ties with Ronny Cedeno, Chris Snyder, and Ryan Doumit, to name a few.
So while the Pirates may or may not be done making moves this offseason, they have reached the end of the Winter Meetings, so it’s realistic now to be able to gage how they’ve done from a team improvement standpoint.  Let’s take a look…how have the Pirates done this offseason thus far?
First of all, we have to look at this realistically.  In terms of free agents, the top tier of players was never available to the Pirates.  Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson, etc. will never wear a Bucs’ uniform for reasons that don’t even need to be explained.  That being said, there were a number of free agents, granted a rather weak lower-tier class, who could certainly improve the Pirates team over their 2011 version. 
I have no issues with the team’s decisions to decline options on Paul Maholm, Chris Snyder, or Ryan Doumit.  Considering the production level from these players, as well as how much they would be owed in compensation, it simply isn’t worth it.  Relatively surprising was the club’s decision to pass on Ronny Cedeno’s option.  He would have been owed $3 million, but I still think that Clint Hurdle’s “lack of admiration” for Cedeno had a lot to do with the decision.  Similarly, Ross Ohlendorf’s release was expected and certainly justified.  The guy has done nothing but disappoint in a Pirates’ uniform.
Rod Barajas coming to Pittsburgh is a move that isn’t overwhelmingly exciting, but it’s something that had to be done.  The Bucs needed a catcher, and calls for Michael McKenry to be the starter are simply uneducated.  He, along with Jason Jaramillo, which was designated for assignment yesterday, as well as Eric Fryer, are not the answer behind the plate at this point.  A move had to be made, and, in terms of realistic signings and availability of players, Barajas is a decent pickup.  It remains to be seen how much he’ll be able to contribute with the bat, but given what the team got from the catcher position last year, just about anything would be an improvement.
The pitching rotation looks all but set after the team acquired Erik Bedard.  This is a risky move, given his injury problems, but I personally love it.  It shows the Bucs are willing to take a risk for immediate impact.  If Bedard is healthy, he’ll be a valuable upgrade to the pitching staff.  In addition to him, the rotation will include Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, and James McDonald.  Morton, of course, may or may not be ready to begin the season follow hip surgery.
With the acquisition of Nate McLouth earlier this week, the Pirates seem to have the pieces in place in the outfield.  Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata are locks in center field and right field respectively, and Alex Presley appears to have the inside track for the everyday starter in left field.  With McLouth, though, they have a reliable backup in the even of injuries, and his playing time will significantly increase depending on his production.  I like this move by the Pirates, getting McLouth for low cost.  He’s ecstatic to be back in Pittsburgh, and hopefully he’ll return to his 2008 form.
Clint Barmes is the biggest move in terms of the infield, and I think he’s a slight upgrade over Ronny Cedeno.  He has more power, but he’s also older, and the defense is certainly in his favor.  He has a good relationship with Clint Hurdle, having played for him in Colorado, so he seems to be happy to be reunited with him in Pittsburgh.  The Yamaico Navarro deal gives the Bucs another backup option, which is nice to have in the event of an injury or in the case of another Pedro Alvarez struggle. 
The main issue still revolves around first base, especially following the Derrek Lee rejection of the Bucs’ arbitration offer.  Though it was expected, Lee’s decision is still disappointing.  He will not be a Pirate next season, most people say, and that leaves the team in a little bit of a bind.  Garrett Jones, Nick Evans, and Jake Fox, or any combination of the three, are the options for first base at this point.  Not doubting the ability of these players, but the Pirates need an everyday first baseman.  It will be interesting to see how the team approaches this situation in the coming weeks.
Just because the Winter Meetings are over, that certainly doesn’t mean the Pirates are done making moves.  Stay tuned to Fans From The Stands for the latest reactions to Pirates’ news and rumors.
And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!