Pirates likely left out of Weaver mix

Free-agent pitcher looks set to sign with Seattle

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Scratch Jeff Weaver, too?

The Pirates' ongoing pursuit of a right-handed starter appears to have produced another swing and miss, as Weaver and his agent, Scott Boras, were engaged in contract discussions with the Seattle Mariners late last night. According to FoxSports.com and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, those talks were serious enough that an agreement seemed imminent.

The contract would be for one year, even though Weaver had been receiving mostly two-year offers with an average salary markedly less than the $8,325,000 he made last season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals and New York Mets were the other interested parties.

It is believed that the Pirates were offering him no more than two years, as they have with nearly all of free-agent pitchers they have contacted, although they might have been open to a third-year club option. It is not known how much they might have been willing to pay.

Boras did not return phone messages for a third consecutive day.

Weaver, 30, was 8-14 with a 5.76 ERA for St. Louis and the Los Angeles Angels last season, but that wound up getting overshadowed by a postseason in which he had a 2.43 ERA in five starts for the Cardinals, including an eight-inning gem in the decisive victory in the World Series.

If the Pirates lose out on Weaver, his name will be added to a list of starters they have pursued to varying degrees but who signed elsewhere: Jeff Suppan (four years, $42 million with the Milwaukee Brewers), Brian Lawrence (one year, $750,000 with the Colorado Rockies) and Tomo Ohka (one year, $1.5 million with the Toronto Blue Jays).

The other starter with whom the Pirates are in contact -- and perhaps the only one left on the free-agent list who fits their profile -- is Tony Armas Jr. But he might be out, too. A report in Newsday yesterday suggested Armas was on the verge of making his choice, and agent Diego Bentz could not be reached yesterday to clarify.

Armas, 28, was 9-12 with a 5.03 ERA for the Washington Nationals last season.

The Pirates, the only team in Major League Baseball that has not signed a free agent to a major-league contract this offseason, are projected to have $11 million in leftover money under their self-imposed payroll limit of $50 million.

Littlefield also could make a trade, but those options look even more limited. The only noteworthy starter being actively shopped is the Philadelphia Phillies' Jon Lieber, and his price appears high: His 2007 salary is $7.5 million, and the Phillies want a major-league reliever in return.

For now, Shawn Chacon is No. 5 on the Pirates' rotation depth chart behind Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny. He impressed some in management late last season -- he went 2-3 with a 5.48 ERA in nine starts with the Pirates -- and was signed last week to a $3,825,000 contract. But that deal is not guaranteed and can be bought out for $637,500 in spring training.

NOTES -- The Pirates avoided salary arbitration with outfielder Jody Gerut when he agreed to take a $25,000 cut in base pay with a one-year, $850,000 contract. He also can make up to $140,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances. Gerut made $875,000 while missing all of last season to knee surgery, and his status remains uncertain heading into spring training. ... Four arbitration cases remain. ... The Pirates continued negotiations with third baseman Freddy Sanchez, the parties still focused on a two-year contract. ... Tickets for the Pirates' spring exhibitions will go on sale at 9 a.m. tomorrow on the team's Web site, pirates.mlb.com.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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