DK has jump started the talk about free agency at the PG today by mentioning that Neal Huntington is again talking about being aggressive in free agency. The mentioned targets this morning are some of the players the Pirates traded last month (likely spear-headed by John Grabow) and Rick Ankiel. It's obviously a bit early for this kind of speculation, but after reading the story the free agency gears started churning in my head.
I find Ankiel to be an incredibly interesting player. There's really no comparison for a guy that spent his early 20s pitching, quit pitching to go back to the bottom of the minor league ladder, became an outfielder, and suddenly returned as a good big league hitter. He made some big strides from 2007 to 2008 until his late season injury, but he's obviously taken a big step back this year and he's very injury prone. Taking him and putting him in right field (I know it's suggested that he'd play left for the Pirates, but his UZR numbers aren't great, Milledge has looked pretty good in left, and he's obviously got a cannon for an arm) would probably give the Pirates one of the better defensive outfields in baseball and if he can regain his form at the plate, he'd give the Pirates some pop from the left side of the plate.
As interesting as Ankiel is, though, I still don't see any big name free agents signing with the Pirates in the near future. We've seen in the past that most free agents regard Pittsburgh as the baseball Arctic and I can't imagine that's going to change before Pedro Alvarez gets to Pittsburgh, unless the market completely freezes some guys out, a la Reggie Sanders in 2003. On top of that, signing a guy like Ankiel is a move that I'd think would be one of the last moves to make as the pieces come together, not a move that comes in the middle of the process.
Huntington's got a boat load of cash to use how he sees fit and despite the ugly results from the last six weeks, things are starting to come together for this franchise. It's happeningly slowly, but in some regards building a baseball team is like putting together a huge puzzle with five other people. Each person takes a corner or starts to put it together and those individual parts take shape on their own, even if it's not immediately apparent how they all fit together. This winter could yield some interesting results for the Pirates; they've got money to spend and it's very likely that the market will move slowly. If they can convince a free agent or two that they really are moving things in the right direction, they might be able to find an unexpected piece of that puzzle.