The Pirates were surprise contenders in 2013, due in large part to a young core of players that had a solid supporting cast of veterans. GM Neal Huntington didn't break the bank on any of his signings last winter, picking up complementary pieces like Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, and Mark Melancon. Sure enough, nearly everything he touched turned to gold, and Pittsburgh made the Postseason for the first time since 1992. But Huntington has some more issues to contend with this offseason, and he'll need to use some of that magic once again.
AJ Burnett's free agency is something that needs to be addressed, even though the Cardinals destroyed him in Game 1 of the NLDS. Burnett is either coming back to Pittsburgh or retiring, and if he chooses the latter, the Pirates are going to need to find a veteran to fill out their young rotation. Shortstop Clint Barmes is also a free agent, and the club may look to bring him back solely for his glove. Pittsburgh will also bid farewell to midseason acquisitions Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd, and their absences will be addressed differently.
The Pirates needs to do something about their mess at first base. They've been fudging it with Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, and Morneau over the last two years, and the middle of the road (or worse) production they've gotten isn't going to cut it. if the club must keep Sanchez, who still has two years of arbitration left and will be cheap, that's fine, but Jones needs to be non-tendered. A platoon partner for Sanchez would be necessary, and James Loney could be the guy to help shore up that position.
At shortstop, if the team doesn't bring Barmes back, I'd firmly expect Jordy Mercer to get promoted to the full-time spot instead of the team seeking out another option. But if they wanted a defensive-minded caddy for Mercer, former Mariner wizard Brendan Ryan would be a great fit. A one or two year deal for Byrd to return in right field would be ideal for the Pirates with Gregory Polanco tearing his way through the minor leagues, but Chris Young could be a nice buy-low option that provides some defensive value as well.
As for the Burnett situation, the Pirates could probably fudge it with their current rotation of Liriano, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, and the perennially-injured Wandy Rodriguez until top prospects Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham are ready to make the jump to The Show. Burnett would almost be an insurance policy for the team in case Rodriguez isn't healthy or Locke continues to pitch like he did in the second half, and for that reason, I don't think that Pittsburgh is going to really sniff around too many other starters.
The Pirates have so many great prospects and only so many available roster spots, and trading some of them to upgrade the major league club could be a win/win move for the team. As for current major leaguers, Jones could be trade bait if he's not non-tendered. Jose Tabata is another guy that could end up getting dealt, because even though he doesn't really have a job in Pittsburgh right now, he's still a useful player signed through 2016 at a total of $11.5 million (with *three* club options as well).
Well, the Pirates aren't going to go into fire sale mode any time soon. If the club does look to deal prospects for a veteran, one name immediately comes to mind – Giancarlo Stanton, the same name that always comes up in these situations. Stanton would cost the Pirates a truckload of prospects, but this is one of the few organizations that can put together a worthy package of players and not destroy their major league franchise and their future. But Pittsburgh won't overpay, something they showed at the trade deadline this year when they didn't go crazy in the bidding for Byrd, getting him a month later at a fraction of the cost. If there's a veteran on the trade market that will make the Pirates a better club for 2014, Huntington won't be afraid to deal prospects – but he's not going to get rid of them just for the hell of it.