As the field of right-handed starters in free agency keeps dwindling for the Pirates -- their talks with Tomo Ohka suddenly broke off yesterday -- the most logical fit of those remaining might be Tony Armas Jr.
Diego Bentz, agent for Armas, confirmed yesterday that the Pirates are one of "several" teams talking to him about his client. He declined to divulge specifics, but he described the Pirates as one of the more interested parties.
"Tony's keeping his options open," Bentz said.
Armas, 28, was 9-12 with a 5.03 ERA in 30 starts for Washington last season, after which the Nationals declined to tender him a contract through salary arbitration. His previous salary was $2.1 million, and he surely would have won a raise through the arbitration process.
The brightest element to Armas' season was that he pitched without any shoulder ailments for the first time since 2002. Still, durability and dependability are long-standing concerns. He has spent the past seven seasons on the major-league roster of the Nationals/Montreal Expos and topped 19 starts only three times. He also has yet to record a complete game in 151 starts.
For his career, Armas is 48-60 with a 4.50 ERA.
Still, his relative youth makes him attractive to some suitors, and that could be the primary reason for the Pirates' interest. Management has been saying throughout the offseason that its preference is to add players who fit into the age bracket of its core group.
As for Ohka, in a surprising twist, he and his agent, Jim Masteralexis, decided yesterday to abandon all of their two-year offers -- including one from the Pirates -- in favor of seeking a one-year deal. That way, Ohka and Masteralexis reasoned, Ohka might get more in salary out of a one-year deal and, more important, use that year to prove his worth and receive more in free agency next offseason.
Ohka's value this offseason has been damaged by missing three months of last season to injury, including a slightly torn rotator cuff.
"We believe our market in 2008 will be much more in tune with what Tomo is worth," Masteralexis said.
Masteralexis informed Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield of the change of position yesterday afternoon and, when it was clear the Pirates had no interest, the sides broke off.
"The Pirates were first class through all of this," Masteralexis said. "We just each decided to go in a different direction."
Masteralexis said Ohka's decision on a team will come this week. He said the only certainty was that it will not be the Pirates.
Ohka, 30, went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers last season.
The only other right-handed starters in free agency who might provide competition for Shawn Chacon -- the Pirates' current No. 5 man -- are Jeff Weaver and Chan Ho Park. But each is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, and each likely will command more than the Pirates are willing to pay. Weaver, 30, made $8.3 million last season for the St. Louis Cardinals while going 8-14 with a 5.76 ERA. Park, 33, made $15.3 million for the San Diego Padres while going 7-7 with a 4.81 ERA.
NOTES -- The Pirates have expressed interest in outfielder Luis Matos, possibly to compete for a spot on their bench. Matos, 28, is a right-handed hitter coming off a dismal season with Washington in which he batted .206 with two home runs in 69 games. He spent the previous six seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, including a 2005 in which he batted .280 with four home runs in 121 games. He hit 13 home runs in 2003. ... The Associated Press in Chicago reported yesterday that the Pirates had some interest in free-agent outfielder Cliff Floyd, but Floyd is close to signing a one-year contract with the Cubs. ... Newly acquired first baseman Adam LaRoche confirmed he will participate in the first two days of PirateFest, Friday and Saturday, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. His autograph session will be 4:30-6 p.m. Saturday. ... The Pirates signed outfielder Aron Weston to a minor-league contract. Weston, 26, batted .241 for the Cubs' Class A affiliate in Daytona, Fla. ... The contract that Brian Lawrence -- another free-agent pitcher the Pirates had pursued -- will sign with the Colorado Rockies calls for one year at $500,000 and a club option with a $250,000 buyout.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .