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07/29/11 11:30 PM ET

Parting with prospects Bucs' great temptation

Club unlikely to land major talent without dealing valuable chips

PHILADELPHIA -- General manager Neal Huntington has until 4 p.m. ET on Sunday to decide how he is going to set up this Pirates team as it attempts to make a push for the franchise's first postseason berth in 19 years.

Huntington's obvious desire remains to add impact pieces to the current team, which entered Friday sitting 1 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Brewers. The Pirates' pursuit of corner-outfield/infield bats and relief help has continued in earnest for weeks, though the only deal to this point has been the plucking of middle reliever Jason Grilli out of the Phillies' farm system.

There will be a cost with any deal Huntington makes, and the debate now is what cost is the right one both for the short and long term.

To be serious suitors for some of the top position players being dangled -- think Rays center fielder B.J. Upton and White Sox right fielder Carlos Quentin -- the Pirates' list of top prospects would have to take a hit. It would likely mean parting with someone like Jameson Taillon, Starling Marte or Stetson Allie as part of an even bigger prospect-heavy package.

What the Pirates have to decide is how much of the future they are willing to give up for the present. Huntington isn't going to go all in for the 2011 season, and his hope was that asking prices would begin decreasing as Sunday approached.

Trade Include

Still, there remains little indication that those demands have lessened. In fact, the trade that sent Carlos Beltran from the Mets to the Giants earlier this week has actually given other clubs even more leverage with their outfield trade bait.

"We are diligently working through the process," Huntington said on Friday. "I will give our counterparts credit -- they have stayed consistent. We will continue to look for ways to help this club short term and continue to look for the right fit or fits. We remain open-minded with respect to what we may be able to add while being respectful to the 25 players in the clubhouse giving everything they have every night to win baseball games."

The more realistic move is that the Pirates fall back off that top group of impact hitters and get aggressive with the next tier of offensive options. That could mean making a run at the likes of Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick, Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee, A's outfielder Josh Willingham, Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur or Twins outfielder Jason Kubel.

While the impact would not be as substantial to the Pirates' lineup, there are plenty of available players who would represent at least an upgrade over the team's current options. Going this route would also allow Pittsburgh to nab a hitter without sacrificing too much Minor League talent.

The relief market seems to be more saturated, which means that the Pirates could have better luck finding a trade partner there. The A's and Padres are among the clubs shopping their relievers.

With 1 1/2 games separating the top three teams in the NL Central, these next couple of days could go a long way in determining which of those clubs is in the top position for a run to the postseason. The Cardinals already bolstered their pitching staff with the acquisition of right-hander Edwin Jackson and two other relievers on Wednesday.

Now, it's up to the Pirates to decide how they want to respond.

"He's doing everything he can," manager Clint Hurdle said of Huntington. "There is not a general manager that we have identified as a seller that we have not had contact or tried to have discussion with. He is the hardest-working man in baseball right now, without a doubt, at least in my eyes."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.