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Walker happy with Bucs’ plan

December 15, 2012
By Will Graves , The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - Neil Walker is hardly bothered the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't been exactly been lighting up the rumor mill over the last few months. If anything, the second baseman sees it as a sign of just how far the club has come.

"The good thing about this offseason is that we weren't looking to upgrade at six, seven different spots as we have," Walker said Friday. "We knew we were going to get a couple arms from a starter standpoint, knew we were looking for a catcher to go with [Mike McKenry]. I think we upgraded very well. You've got to like what you're looking at on paper."

The Pirates landed three-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin and re-signed veteran setup man Jason Grilli. Other than that, the moves have been minor.

"We're going to roll with what we've got and we're excited about the additions we've made," Walker said.

Besides, it's unlikely Pittsburgh is done. Though general manager Neal Huntington is happy with the moves the team has made he's expects to stay busy before the first full squad workout in Bradenton, Fla., on Feb. 15.

"We still have some irons in the fire, and at the same time we feel good about what we are," Huntington said.

The biggest item at the top of Huntington's offseason list was finding a catcher. Veteran Rod Barajas did wonders with the pitching staff but struggled at the plate and behind it, throwing out just 6 percent (6 of 101) base runners attempting to steal and hitting just .206 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 106 games.

The 29-year-old Martin is still in his prime, though his batting average dipped to a career-low .211 last season with the New York Yankees. The two-year deal also gives Martin a little time to settle in and Huntington is confident the hitting woes that plagued Martin are a thing of the past.

"He's a better hitter than that," Huntington said. "He's going to grind out at bats, which is going to help us get into opponent's bullpens. He's an athlete on the bases. We feel like he's a significant upgrade offensively and defensively."

Grilli's return also gives the back end of the bullpen some stability and flexibility. The 36-year-old has been one of the better late-inning relievers in the league since signing with Pittsburgh in July, 2011. While he's never been a closer, Grilli could find himself thrust into the role if Pittsburgh move two-time All-Star Joel Hanrahan, who is likely due a hefty raise in arbitration.

Hanrahan is also the team's most valuable - and tradable - asset, perhaps the biggest chip they have in trying to find some help in the starting rotation. Pittsburgh is set on a top three of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald but at the moment has youngsters Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson penciled in for the fourth and fifth spots. The Pirates would like to throw an established starter in the mix and hope Charlie Morton recovers from elbow ligament-replacement surgery. Morton is expected to be out until at least June.

 
 

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