The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 19, 2014

Owner says Pirates moves "strong"

BRADENTON, Fla. — Although the Pittsburgh Pirates were not major players in the free-agent and trade markets this winter, owner Bob Nutting is optimistic the team can build on last year’s success.

After making the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, the Pirates lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. This offseason, three key players – A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau – left via free agency.

The Pirates’ moves this winter got little fanfare. They signed Edinson Volquez for $5 million, re-signed Clint Barmes to be a utility infielder and traded for backup catcher Chris Stewart.

“I think the additions were strong,” Nutting said Wednesday during a brief visit to the team’s spring training camp. “I am very enthusiastic about the team we’ll put on the field. Are we in a strong position to compete and excel in 2014? Absolutely. I’m never satisfied, but I’m very enthusiastic about where we are.”

The team opened camp last week with open jobs at first base and right field. General Manager Neal Huntington continues to seek an everyday first baseman and has checked in on free agent Kendrys Morales.

Morales turned down a qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners in November. That means the Pirates would have to forfeit their first-round draft pick (No. 25 overall) if they sign Morales.

With an expected payroll of around $78 million so far, Nutting said the Pirates could have the financial flexibility to sign a free agent such as Morales. Nutting also did not rule out giving up the draft pick.

“Certainly, nothing is off the table,” Nutting said. “But, at the same time, we need to recognize that a first-round draft pick is a meaningful source or talent for a team like the Pirates. We want to be smart and cautious.”

Nutting declined to say whether Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle will get contract extensions before Opening Day. Both Hurdle and Huntington are signed through the end of this season with a club option for 2015.

“Having talked with both of them, I don’t think that’s the first topic on anybody’s mind right now,” Nutting said. “There’s so much work to get done for this team between now and opening day. We’re early in spring training. It’s not a time to have that discussion.”

Exactly one year ago, the Pirates gave Hurdle a one-year extension. Hurdle, Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers and Ron Roenicke of the Milwaukee Brewers are the only managers without contract guarantees beyond 2014.

“I have tremendous respect and affection for both Neal and Clint,” Nutting said. “What they’ve done for the organization in good and bad times really is tremendous, and I hope they’re with the organization for a long time. My expectation is they’re going to be critically important pieces of this organization as we go forward.”

Notes: RF Travis Snider took batting practice Wednesday for the first time since cutting his finger with a kitchen knife a few days ago. ... LHP Francisco Liriano found out he will be the opening day pitcher when manager Clint Hurdle announced it during a team meeting. “I’m kind of shy, so it was a little embarrassing,” Liriano said. “But, at the same time, it’s a great feeling.” It is Liriano’s second season-opening assignment. In 2009, when Liriano was with the Minnesota Twins, he filled in when Scott Baker went down with an injury about 10 days before the start of the season.

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