A year ago, general manager Neal Huntington and the Pirates identified one major hole to address in free agency, locked in on veteran catcher Russell Martin and aggressively pursued him until he was crouched behind home plate at PNC Park.

This year, a more patient approach will guide the franchise when free agency begins at the conclusion of the World Series, Huntington said in a recent interview.

A winning season, the first playoff berth in 21 years and a foundation in place will do that.

"In the past, we went and got that player who met our needs, but now we can be in a position to be more patient," Huntington said. "Typically, to get a guy early you have to overpay him. There's clubs who have had some success doing that. We're in a good spot in that two years ago we had to get a catcher. Then, we had to get a shortstop [Clint Barmes]. This year we're looking for areas to make us better."

Naturally, Huntington did not tip his hand on specifics, but said the Pirates would like to improve their pitching and offense and could dip into the free-agent market to do so, but with a measured approach.

"Is it a pitcher and a bat? Two bats? A starter, reliever and a bat? A huge bat or multiple pieces?" Huntington said. "We've got to get into the market, see what trade talks are out there and be flexible. We can be patient this offseason."

Four key Pirates are pending free agents -- pitcher A.J. Burnett, right fielder Marlon Byrd, first baseman Justin Morneau and shortstop Clint Barmes.

Completing the puzzle starts with completing the pitching staff, which means determining whether or not Burnett will return for another year or retire.

"If we retain A.J, that will be a significant positive, but also it's going to cost us a good chunk of the available money, and we'll have to react accordingly," Huntington said.