For the first time in decades, the Pirates find themselves in the thick of a division race, and as such, they hope to be buyers in the trade market this month.
Indications are that they'll aim for the fences in an attempt to improve the 10th-ranked offense in the National League.
According to a major league source, team management has made it known that it's in the market for an "impact player" prior to the July 31 deadline for non-roster trades.
"'Impact player' can mean different things," the source told me. "But in their case, it's probably safe to assume that they want to add a power hitter at one of the corner positions."
The organization will have company in its search for a proven run-producer, as it is in greater demand in the post-steroids era.
"In theory, we'd absolutely like to add to this club," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We work every day to see if there is the right piece to add to the club. It has got to come at the right acquisition cost and the right fit.
"(Manager) Clint (Hurdle) has made it clear that there are certain players we need to add and they have to fit in the clubhouse. Sometimes, adding to add is a subtraction. We have got to make sure that it's the right fit at the right cost."
The organization also intends to create a permanent spot for outfielder Alex Presley on the major league roster, and has dangled outfielders Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones as trade bait, the source said. Since his promotion from Triple A Indianapolis late last month, Presley has a .365 batting average and six extra-base hits in 13 games.
Presley could share time with Jose Tabata, who was expected to return from a strained left quadriceps shortly. Tabata has hit .322 against left-handers this season, 75 points higher than against righties. Or, most likely, Tabata could move to right field.
At the top of the list are Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran and Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena and third baseman Aramis Ramirez, all of whom may become free agents after the season. Recently, Huntington indicated that the organization was not interested in a two-month rental, however, which would appear to take them out of consideration.
The Astros reportedly will consider offers for Pence, who again will be eligible for salary arbitration after the season. According to multiple sources, they want a package that includes a minimum of one regular position player and two elite prospects in return, a price that the Pirates likely consider to be exorbitant. Furthermore, an ownership change might not become official until late August, which could put any trade plans on hold in the interim.
In the American League, there is talk that All-Star outfielder Carlos Quentin will be available if the Chicago White Sox don't get out of the gate quickly after the break. While Quentin ranks 10th in the American League in home runs (17), he has a history of health problems. His salary likely would reach the $8-million mark in arbitration after the season.
The organization could opt for less costly alternatives, such as Cubs veteran Marlon Byrd, 33, a one-time All-Star selection.
A career .283 hitter, Byrd is known for his consistency at the plate and in the field, where he can play any of the outfield positions. He is under contract through the 2012 season, when he is scheduled to be paid a reasonable $6.5 million. What's more, he is widely considered to be a positive clubhouse influence, which is no small consideration for a predominantly young team.
"Byrd may not be a sure 20-home run guy, but he is a proven run-producer," one Cubs insider said. "From the standpoint of talent, experience, leadership and salary, he would be a good fit for the Pirates in the short term."
The Cubs are in dire need of starters at the major league and upper minor league levels. The Pirates intend to re-sign Paul Maholm, which means that their rotation almost certainly will remain intact, but they have a number of minor league pitchers who may be of interest.
The organization also remains in the market for an upgrade at the shortstop position. Because of the dearth of talent at the position at the major league level, however, the options are few and far between.
The Baltimore Orioles have received several inquiries about J.J. Hardy, who is eligible to become a free agent after the season, but they are adamant that a contract extension will be reached as early as this week. The plan is to have Hardy fill the position until 19-year-old prospect Manny Machado is ready for the major leagues in a couple or three years.
The Pirates were one of several teams that inquired about Hardy last off-season, when he was Minnesota Twins property. A trade could not be completed, however, and the veteran was sent to the Orioles in return for three minor leaguers.
Despite a strained right oblique that sidelined him for nearly one month, Hardy took a .278 batting average, 13 home runs and 33 RBI season into the All-Star break.
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Paul Ladewski covers the Pirates for Piratesreport.com. Unless otherwise noted, the quotes were obtained first-hand, from industry sources or official Pirates media materials.