Pirates, Sanchez agree to unusual three-year deal

Signing will come today, pending physical, at PNC Park

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The Pirates and Freddy Sanchez have agreed to terms on a three-year contract -- two guaranteed years plus an unusual option, with a total worth in the range of $19 million -- and expect to make that official today.

Nothing will be signed until after the team's two-time All-Star second baseman undergoes a physical this morning in Pittsburgh, but all financial elements are complete, and no problems are anticipated with the physical. Pending the physical, the team will hold a news conference this afternoon at PNC Park.

Specific financial terms were not available last night, but Sanchez is expected to get roughly $4.5 million in base pay for the coming season and about $6 million for the second season.

For 2010, there will be a club option that would involve another raise if the Pirates exercise it, a buyout if they do not. But that comes with a large asterisk: If Sanchez performs at a certain level in the first two seasons of the contract -- believed to be based on a reasonable threshold of plate appearances -- a provision in the contract automatically triggers that option.

That year was known to be important to Sanchez, who was set to become a free agent after the 2009 season. This arrangement will allow the Pirates to retain his rights one year beyond that, even as it will offer Sanchez a vehicle to prove his worth independently.

The framework of the deal was put in place late last week when the Pirates upgraded their offer from two guaranteed years plus a strict club option to the more flexible option. Before that, the sides had been negotiating only through a one-year prism aimed at avoiding their scheduled Feb. 11 arbitration hearing. The arbitration, for which Sanchez submitted a $4.9 million salary and the team a $4.1 million salary, will be nullified when the contract is signed.

Sanchez, 30, won the National League batting title with a .344 average in 2006 and overcame a slow start last season to finish at .304. He also was runner-up in Gold Glove voting at second base, behind the Arizona Diamondbacks' Orlando Hudson.

On another front, reliever Damaso Marte has informed Pirates general manager Neal Huntington that he does not expect to pitch in the ongoing Caribbean World Series.

Marte, who complained of neck stiffness after a minor car accident last week, played catch Saturday in his native Dominican Republic and told Huntington afterward that he "feels good" with no pain in his neck or anywhere. Still, Marte decided it would be better not to pitch until spring training, for which he expects to be fully ready.




NOTES -- The Pirates have placed starter Sean Burnett, designated for assignment Friday, on waivers. If no team claims him within 48 hours -- it was not clear when that clock started ticking -- they plan to keep him in the system and invite him to the major-league portion of spring training. ... The Pirates' Latin American staff has signed right-handed starter Emilis Guerrero, 22, to a minor-league contract. Guerrero never played above the rookie level in two years in Boston's system despite posting ERAs of 2.45 and 2.91. The Red Sox released him earlier this month.


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


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