Watching free agent parade



DALLAS — Free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes agreed a $106-million contract Sunday on the eve of the winter meetings. This afternoon, closer Heath Bell stood at a podium at the Hilton Anatole and answered questions about his new, $27-million deal. Sluggers Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder soon will choose from among colossal offers.

The parade of big-money free agents is passing by the Pirates — which is the way management wants it.

“The best use of our money might be adding to our depth,” GM Neal Huntington said Monday. “For us to take steps forward every year, it’s going to be our young guys who need to continue to get better, whether that means (they) get healthy or perform up to their potential. That’s where our biggest improvements are always going to come from, and then we’ll supplement through free agency.”

Looking to bolster a team that lost 95 games last season, Huntington made no moves on the first day of the winter meetings. And as the possibility of re-signing Derrek Lee dwindles, Huntington acknowledged that finding a power-hitting first baseman might be impossible this offseason.

“First base might not be an option for us,” Huntington said. “We may add to the club by thickening the bench, or by adding a starting pitcher or a reliever. We’ve got some holes to fill, but we don’t feel like we’ve desperately got to do anything. If we can upgrade, outstanding. If we can upgrade at an appropriate acquisition cost, even better.”

»»» Closer Joel Hanrahan is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and likely will see his salary rise to between $3 million and $4 million in 2012. The Pirates would prefer to sign Hanrahan to a new contract rather than go to arbitration, but they have not yet begun negotiations. Huntington was asked if the Pirates would consider offering Hanrahan a multi-year deal. His response was noncommittal: “If it’s the right fit, we’re open to it with anybody. But it’s got to be the right contract, the right years.”

Based on the Pirates’ history with players whose paycheck is about to launch into the stratosphere, Hanrahan would seem to be an excellent trade candidate. “Nobody’s untradeable, but there are some guys where it’s much tougher than others,” Huntington said. “If it makes sense for the organization, (a trade) is something we have to consider. We’ve got Joel pre-free agency for two more years. Closers get expensive in a hurry because of the arbitration system. As we look at Joel and where we project his numbers going, he absolutely fits for us the next two years and hopefully beyond that. We have two years of control with him. We can very easily see him closing games for us for the next two years, if not beyond.”

»»» Huntington refused to say whether or not the Pirates will use their pick in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. If they decide to make a pick, they first will have to drop someone from the 40-man roster.

»»» Ron Santo was elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans’ committee. Santo was listed on 15 of the 16 ballots. Twelve votes were necessary for induction. Luis Tiant, who pitched in nine games for the Pirates in 1981, was among five candidates who got fewer than three votes.