Huntington not seeking catcher, but may deal reliever
Sanchez to begin regular season as backup behind plate while Stewart recovers
TAMPA, Fla. -- No, Neal Huntington is not looking to bring in a catcher. And, yes, the Pirates general manager is looking to ship out a reliever.
That much became clear Friday afternoon, when Huntington confirmed that Tony Sanchez -- told weeks ago that he would begin the season in Indianapolis -- will be on the Opening Day roster to keep warm Chris Stewart's bench seat while the veteran recovers from knee surgery.
Stewart's optimistic prognosis off Wednesday's procedure to mend his right meniscus brought closure to speculation of what the Bucs might do to compensate for his absence.
"No, [looking for an external option] never really was a choice, unless Chris was to be out for the majority of the season. With a short-term loss, Tony is the guy," Huntington said.
However, there is no possible closure for the glut of deserving relief pitchers in camp -- short of a deal or deals to ease the logjam.
"We've been very open," Huntington said. "We'll probably have a very good arm available at the end of Spring Training. We're working through the process to see what we might have. You never want to leave yourself short, but we'll probably have a pretty good pitcher available at the end of camp."
Short of listing on Craig's List, that is about as overt a Major League GM will ever be about his intentions.
However, Huntington's hand is pretty obvious. Friday's second set of camp cuts included a pair of relievers who had performed well, Pennsylvania native Josh Kinney and sidearming right-hander Cody Eppley (they had a composite ERA of 3.08 in 13 appearances between them).
Even with Kinney and Eppley reassigned to Minor League camp, enough relievers remain in the big league camp to outfit two bullpens.
Complicating -- or simplifying, depending on the perspective -- Huntington's chore is five of the held-over relievers being out of options, making them fair game for other teams via waivers if there is no room for them and they are not dealt: Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Jeanmar Gomez, Stolmy Pimentel and Mark Melancon.
There would appear to be two sets of either-or options in that group: Morris or Mazzaro, both righty setup men; and Gomez or Pimentel, both seen as long relievers/spot starters.
When it comes to dickering on baseball's open market, being a committed seller can be as disadvantageous as being a desperate buyer. Huntington's best bet, and his apparent intent, is to hold his cards until multiple teams express interest, possibly triggering a bidding process.
"We've got the ability to hold until the last second, to make sure we don't have an injury, or to move as soon as we find something we like," Huntington said. "We can go in either direction. Move quickly, or play it out until we absolutely have to [make a move].
"And even then, we'll still get a pretty decent player for whoever we decide to move."
Obviously, the GM already has a pretty clear idea of the names being dangled by potential trade partners. Given the fact that Jose Tabata and Travis Snider are also out of options and that the Bucs may not have room for both or may be uncomfortable with either, a blockbuster involving a package of an outfielder and relievers for a new right fielder is a very hot possibility.
One thing the Pirates are not seeking is a new catcher.
"Had [Stewart's loss] been any longer, we would've readdressed it," Huntington said, "but we're absolutely confident Tony is ready to go. It's a great opportunity for him to learn at the Major League level for a month, and he'll still have plenty of time to stay sharp [by returning to regular play at Triple-A] when Chris is healthy.
"Having Tony as the guy short-term was never a question. We're comfortable with him coming with us to Pittsburgh [for the season-opening homestand]."
Sanchez, the club's top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, made his big league debut last summer -- initially, oddly, as a designated hitter in Interleague games -- and batted .233 in 22 games, with a pair of home runs. His time behind the plate was limited to 112 innings.
Stewart, the former Yankees receiver, wasn't around to see any of that. But he has eyed Sanchez this spring and gave him a vote of confidence.
"He just takes care of business, doesn't try to do too much, knows what he's capable of," Stewart said. "And he's pretty smart, wants to learn and get better every day, and that's the biggest thing with a young catcher. It's not like he doesn't know what he's getting into: he got a taste last year."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.