Lefties and licorice sticks


INDIANAPOLIS — Pirates GM Neal Huntington doesn’t yet know what to make of these Winter Meetings.

“I’m not sure I have a feel at this point,” Neal Huntington said today during a late-afternoon meeting with reporters in his suite at the Marriott. “I don’t think there’s been any big surprises, in terms of teams that have more money to spend or less money to spend, or teams that are looking to take on payroll vs. dump payroll. It’s pretty much what we expected, coming in.

“There are contract-for-contract conversations. Teams are trying to explore, do they just throw money at a problem or do they send prospects and trade for something. The economic impact is real, but I don’t think it’s any more or less than we anticipate.”

– Teams have inquired about pitchers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. Young starters, and especially left-handers, are at a premium, but Huntington said the Pirates wouldn’t necessarily seek a player(s) in return who could immediately step into their lineup. “It doesn’t have to be major league-ready talent,” Huntington said. “It certainly makes it a lot more comfortable. But to take a much lesser-upside player just because he’s major league-ready doesn’t make sense for us.

“And we feel like we have options internally. If we were to move a starter, we’d rely on Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Hart or Brad Lincoln much more quickly to go into the rotation. But it is still an option, if we get the right return.”

– The 40-man roster has two vacancies. Luis Cruz was claimed off waivers by the Brewers and pitcher Jeff Sues was sent outright to Triple-A Indy. Does that mean a Rule 5 pick is a slam-dunk? “There are a handful of names that we’re seriously considering,” Huntington said. “I don’t think it means we’ll definitely take somebody. But there are guys who interest us and who’ll warrant further discussion.”

– No surprise injures have popped up so far during winter ball and offseason conditioning among Pirates players and prospects. Huntington said he’s gotten “real good” news about Pedro Alvarez, who is training in Arizona, and Lastings Milledge, who’s working out in Tampa. Both players are under orders to slim down and build muscle. Team president Frank Coonelly recently checked up with Alvarez in person. “Frank met with Pedro and is pleased with where he is at this point,” Huntington said. “It’s still early. We’ve still got to get through Christmas.”

Is Alvarez in slim-down mode or maintain-weight mode? “We’re still working through the body composition,” Huntington said. “He deserves credit (because) he’s worked hard the second half of this year. His food choices are better, his body’s coming together better, but we still have some work to do. But we’ve seen very encouraging signs.”

A few feet away from Huntington sat the Pirates’ stash of Winter Meetings “comfort food” — licorice sticks, beef jerky, chips and cookies. “(Pedro) would not be allowed in this room,” Huntington said, laughing. “There are some apples over there that maybe would work for him.”