Incumbent shortstop Clint Barmes struggled significantly at the plate this season, and it is fair to ask whether the Pirates should rely in him in 2013.
Barmes was a defensive ace last season, and he provided the Bucs with a fair amount of value as a result. But he was still below league average at the position overall, and while his strong defense will likely continue, it wouldn't be surprising to see him regress some from what was a career year in the field.
Like the catcher market, the market for shortstops is thin as usual. However there are some intriguing options for the Pirates to pursue, perhaps more substantial than in the catcher market, with the knowledge that Barmes will remain in the roster as a decent backup plan.
None of the free agent options at shortstop come without risk, and as a result it may be possible for the Pirates to sign someone to a one-year contract. Several of these options carry a fair amount of upside with them, as well.
Stephen Drew, coming off an injury, is likely the most promising name of the bunch. Traditionally a league-average hitter from the shortstop position, Drew would be a huge upgrade if healthy. Alex Gonzalez is in a similar situation and is essentially a poor man's version of Drew. There is a decent chance that both players will look to prove they are healthy this year before seeking their next contracts.
Marco Scutaro, who at this point is ideally a second baseman but may still be able to handle the shortstop position, is another option. Scutaro remains a very solid hitter who would add on-base ability to a Pittsburgh offense that lacks it.
There are usually few quality shortstops available for trade, but this year there are a couple established players who are in positions where their teams might at least listen if the offer were substantial enough.
Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado are two of the best prospects in all of baseball, so while the Rangers and Orioles are not expressly interested in trading either Elvis Andrus or J.J. Hardy, the Pirates would at least be able to broach the subject.
It would require a substantial offer to acquire either player, especially Andrus, who is one of the better players in all of baseball. But it isn't out of the question, and the Pirates are one of the few teams with the collection of players and prospects necessary to get a deal done.
The Pirates do not really have any short-term internal solutions at shortstop, as top prospect Alen Hanson is still a few years away,
Jordy Mercer and Chase D'Arnaud, the two true shortstops in the upper levels of the system, are still trying to prove they can be everyday players at the Major League level. Neither has proven that they have enough pop to be much of an upgrade over Bames at the plate.
Brock Holt impressed in his late-season call-up in 2012, but he cooled off towards the end of the season and he has not yet proven that he can handle the position defensively.
There is decent chance that Clint Barmes is the Pirates' shortstop on opening day. But given that the Pirates are comfortable with this, they should be willing to make a run at a few riskier acquisitions.
Even if Drew or Scutaro would command a decent amount of money, they could probably be signed to one-year deals which would substantially mitigate any risk. The Bucs would then be able to roll the dice with a superior offensive player while having a Barmes ready to play if the gamble didn't pay off.
It would also be nice to see the Pirates make a sincere run at a player like Andrus. A team in Pittsburgh's position should be looking for cornerstones at hard-to-fill positions; you can always find a first baseman at a moderate price. If the Bucs can capitalize on Joel Hanrahan's value to make him the centerpiece of a trade, all the better.