Winter Meetings begin


DALLAS — Good morning from the Hilton Anatole. It’s 8:15 a.m. CT and the Winter Meetings are beginning to get cranked up. I’ll blog as often as I can to provide updates, rumors and a bit of insight. I’ll also be Tweeting, as usual, throughout the day and into the nigtht. My Twitter handle is @BiertempfelTrib.

»»» If today was Opening Day, the Pirates’ starting rotation would consist of Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and, most likely, Brad Lincoln. “We like the five we can run out there today, assuming Charlie is healthy by the time we need a fifth starter in April,” GM Neal Huntington said.

Morton is recovering from hip surgery and is not expected to be back at full strength until sometime in April. The Pirates won’t need a fifth starter until April 14 in San Francisco. If Morton’s not ready to face the Giants, then either Jeff Locke or somebody else from Triple-A Indy would be called up to make a spot start. Because of an off day, the Pirates won’t need a fifth starter again until April 24.

Although he’s an important part of the rotation, Morton will not be rushed back into action. The Pirates tried that last year with McDonald, who missed a lot of time during spring training with a sore side, started the year in the majors anyway, and was knocked around in his first few starts. “We learned a valuable lesson with James McDonald,” Huntington admitted. “We’ve got to make sure we give our guys spring training. We put James in a tough spot.”

Morton and Huntington both say the right-hander’s rehab is going fine and he’s on track to be able to pitch in April. And so, Huntington insists he didn’t come to the winter meetings dead-set on landing a starting pitcher. “We’re not looking to add a starter just to add a starter,” Huntington said. “It’s got to be somebody that we think improves our rotation. We’d like to make sure we’ve got enough depth there.”

Still, the Pirates are casting about for starters. They tried to sign lefty Chris Capuano, who would up taking a two-year, $10-million deal from the Dodgers. They also have scouted Wei-Yin Chen, Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada in Japan. And, as they did last summer, the Pirates could give the Astros a call about a possible trade for Wandy Rodriguez.

»»» As I wrote in Sunday’s Trib, the Pirates are not likely to re-sign first baseman Derrek Lee. But, Huntington insisted finding a first baseman is not his No. 1 offseason priority. “We’re not walking into the winter meetings with a single target,” Huntington said. “We’d like to improve our pitching, we’d like to improve our offense.”

»»» We’ve seen a few teams launch early, quick strikes in the free-agent market — the Pirates did it with Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes. But even with a new CBA in place and several players already off the board, Huntington does not expect things to be even more frantic than usual at the winter meetings. “I think it will be a pretty standard winter meetings,” he said. “Business as normal.”

»»» Last night, I asked two Pirates officials in the lobby about the team’s chances of being serious bidders for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. Both agreed the hype around the speedy outfielder is justified. “We’ve been on him for a long time and we really like him,” one source said. “But the price is going to be too high for us.”