Here are a few highlights from Neal Huntington's chat with reporters this afternoon.
-P- Huntington said the Pirates like the newly acquired David Whitehead, but admitted that a key to the Charlie Morton trade was to clear payroll to use elsewhere.
-P- The Morton trade has no bearing on whether the Pirates trade Mark Melancon, Huntington said -- that is, the salary the Pirates cleared will not make it more likely (or less likely) that they keep Melancon around. "We like the thought of Mark Melancon and (Tony) Watson anchoring the back of that bullpen," Huntington said. "At the same time, if somebody steps up and gives us a return that's significant enough to motivate us to get a little bit uncomfortable, then we get a little bit uncomfortable."
-P- When asked if the Morton deal signaled that there would be other moves to improve the Pirates' rotation, Huntington responded, "That's the plan. ... We wouldn't have done this blindly. At the same time, you can't line everything up perfectly." It looks, then, like the Pirates hope to add more starting pitching and have at least some idea how they hope to do that.
-P- On Jon Niese: "We felt that adding a starting pitcher that has put up numbers and has indicators that he'll continue to put up numbers similar to guys who are getting sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety million dollars in free agency -- we have three, essentially, one-year contracts with Jon Niese, and essentially the same money as Neil (Walker)."
-P- Huntington said that adding another lefty to the Pirates' rotation (giving them four) wouldn't be ideal, but that he plans to continue hunting for rotation help without worrying much about handedness. If the best pitcher for the Bucs turns out to be left-handed, Huntington said, then that's who they'll acquire.
-P- Part of the equation with the Walker deal was that Jung-Ho Kang is "making great progress" and is more likely to return in April than in May, Huntington said. If Kang has a setback or otherwise takes longer than anticipated, the Pirates still feel that they're better off having a hole in their infield than one in their rotation. Huntington later named Alen Hanson and Pedro Florimon as players who could step in if Kang's return is delayed. He also was surprisingly effusive about minor-league signee Cole Figueroa, who he said "does some things in the batter's box that we absolutely love -- commands the zone, uses the whole field ... He's going to be given every chance in the world to make our club."
-P- On Juan Nicasio, who Huntington feels the Pirates could potentially use in a variety of roles: "We do think that we can get a little more out of him. We do think there are some things we can help him with. Now, is it going to be enough to make him a good starter? Time will tell. Is it going to be enough to make him a really good reliever? Time will tell. But in our minds, we've at least got a very solid multi-inning reliever that has potential to go either into the rotation if need be or deeper into the bullpen if need be."