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01/24/09 7:53 PM EST

Free-agent market still open for Bucs

Quiet winter could heat up before the start of Spring Training

PITTSBURGH -- While other mid-market clubs have recently pulled back on their efforts in the free-agent market because of economic uncertainties, the Pirates' management team reiterated to fans at PirateFest on Saturday that the team is still scouring the free-agent market for possible additions.

"The free-agent market is not over," president Frank Coonelly said during the second question-and-answer session with management this weekend. "We're still being very active. I would be very surprised if we don't ... sign players that you would fall in love with this year, between now and the beginning of Spring Training."

The references to the free-agent market weren't overly specific, but one message was made clear -- the Pirates are certainly not closing the door on being able to sign one of the nearly 100 remaining free agents in the next few weeks.

The abundance of free agents still available is largely a result of the unstable economy and the uncertain effect that it will have on club revenues. And while the Pirates are certainly not immune from the economic downturn, they may be able to benefit from a free agent market that is still saturated with talent with Spring Training nearing.

General manager Neal Huntington said that he remains active in discussions with a number of free agents. However, despite the volume of talent still available, Huntington relayed to the public that the salary demands in most cases still have not dropped.

Connelly, too, emphasized the fact that a number of free agents still haven't lowered their asking prices despite warning signs that those desired salary figures will not and cannot be met by teams this offseason.

"The economy has collapsed, the agents for the players that are available still haven't realized that the economy has collapsed and they are still asking for prices that are based on yesterday's market," Coonelly said.

Huntington would not rule out the possibility that the club could still make a run at acquiring a proven veteran starter. In the same breath, though, he added that doing so is not a necessity. The management team has no intentions of overpaying a veteran simply to check the item off the offseason wish list.

"We've explored any number of the veteran starters that are still out there," Huntington said. "But we need to make sure that those veteran starters can still pitch and still perform. It comes back to that we're paying them for what they are going to do, not for what they've done. A lot of veterans still want to get paid for what they've done, and we don't have the threshold to want to do that."

Pedro Martinez is one veteran who has been linked in reports to have had exploratory discussions with the Pirates, though there are no indications that the discussions have materialized into anything deeper.

Hot Stove
If the Pirates do make another splash in the free agent market this winter, it will most likely be to fortify their depth. Last year, the Pirates assembled their bench with players that were not being pursued by other clubs, and the club will reconstruct their bench for '09 in a similar way.

Remember, Doug Mientkiewicz, who became an integral part of the team in '08, signed as a Minor League free agent just four days before the Pirates held their first Spring Training workout.

As Huntington works to reassemble the Pirates' bench, his focus will remain on finding versatile players to fill a backup role. For instance, he ruled out the acquisitions of players like Rich Aurilia or Kevin Millar, neither of whom can play multiple positions.

"We need guys that can be versatile and can bounce around the diamond and play multiple positions," Huntington said. "We're trying to find players that can help [manager John Russell] to where he can move pieces around and put his players in position to be successful."

To this date, the Pirates have signed just one Major League free agent this offseason. The club finalized a two-year deal with free-agent infielder Ramon Vazquez in December.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.