Pirates, Capps talk long-term deal

But Sanchez has not been offered more than one year

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The Pirates have approached closer Matt Capps with a long-term contract offer, but they have pulled back from their other target for such a deal, second baseman Freddy Sanchez.

The team is open to a contract term with Capps that would span as long as three or four years. If it ends up being the latter, that would cover the entire period in which Capps' rights can be retained through arbitration.

But Sanchez, who is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, has yet to receive a multiyear offer.

"Nothing more than one year," agent Paul Cobbe said.

Cobbe declined to elaborate.

It is believed that the Pirates could extend an offer as long as two years plus an option, which would consume Sanchez's final two years of arbitration plus a year of free agency. But that seems unlikely to be accepted. Precedent is scant across Major League Baseball for players forfeiting a year of free agency, particularly players who have performed as Sanchez has the past two seasons.

Sanchez, 30, was the National League batting champion in 2006 and is fresh off a follow-up season in which he rebounded from a spring knee injury to bat .304 with solid defense despite moving to a new position.

Sanchez and the team avoided arbitration last year and agreed to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. He and four other arbitration-eligible players this offseason -- first baseman Adam LaRoche, third baseman Jose Bautista, outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever John Grabow -- remain unsigned. The date for exchanging arbitration figures is Jan. 18.

In MLB's system, teams can pay a player any salary they wish at or above the minimum wage -- which will be $390,000 in 2008 -- for their first three years in the majors. They can retain the player's rights for three additional years through arbitration. After that, the player can declare free agency.

The bid to extend Capps follows the model of several successful, low-spending franchises such as Cleveland.

Mark Shapiro, the Indians' highly respected general manager and Pirates general manager Neal Huntington's previous boss, has made a practice of locking up promising players early in their careers, thereby realizing -- in theory -- a savings once they reached their arbitration years. For all those that do not pan out, the thinking goes, the ones who shine make it pay off.

Capps, 24, comfortably fits into this mold.

He ascended rapidly through the Pirates' system and, in his second year in the majors last season, entrenched himself as their closer. He had 18 saves in 20 chances after taking the job June 1, posted a 2.28 ERA, held right-handed batters to a .181 average and a team-leading 76 appearances.

Capps made $401,000 last season -- which was $21,000 above the minimum -- and could have a salary in that range again in 2008 if the team chose to impose it. By taking an extension now, though, he can get a significant raise next season in exchange for giving potential discounts on some or all of his three arbitration years.

From the sound of it, Capps is plenty amenable to staying put.

"There is nothing that would make me happier than to be a Pittsburgh Pirate for a long time," he said from Bradenton, Fla., where he is preparing for the team's minicamp that begins tomorrow. "I love the city, love the way the fans have treated me and love my teammates."

The Pirates' new management began contemplating long-term contracts for Capps and Sanchez late last season, but no discussions on either front took place until late last month.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published January 7, 2008 5:00 AM


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