FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Pirates have given up on signing one of their young pitchers, closer Matt Capps, to a long-term contract, but they are about to try for another one: Ian Snell.
Multiple sources confirmed that the team contacted Snell's agent, Joe Sroba, yesterday morning to explore a multiyear agreement with its top right-handed starter who led the staff with a 3.76 ERA and 177 strikeouts while going 9-12.
A formal offer could come as soon as the next few days, and talks are expected to move quickly from there. Major League Baseball's deadline for players with three or fewer years of experience to be signed is Tuesday and, though the Pirates and Snell are free to keep talking beyond that, it could function as the timeline for negotiations.
To be sure, Snell will welcome these talks. He already had approached team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington twice in the offseason to let them know of his interest.
"I'd love to be part of this team for a long time," Snell said. "I'd love to see it get done."
Snell, 26, made $408,000 last season, and the Pirates once again are free to assign him any salary they wish -- at the major-league minimum of $390,000 or higher -- because he has fewer than three years of experience. He will be eligible for salary arbitration the next three years and can become a free agent before the 2012 season.
That means the Pirates can retain Snell's rights the next four years even without a long-term contract, but the potential benefit of having one in place is cost certainty. If Snell continues to pitch as well as he did last season, the arbitration scale could drive his price up dramatically.
Management does not discuss ongoing or pending negotiations, but Coonelly and Huntington have made known the team's intention of trying to sign young players where possible.
"The motivation for the team to do that is some savings if a player continues to perform at a solid level," Huntington said. "To fix costs only if a player performs at an elite level, that doesn't make any financial sense."
And the downside?
"If the player gets hurt or underperforms, you still owe that player that money. For the player, he can put $6 million or $10 million in the bank, and he knows he has that money whether he stays healthy or performs. He might leave some money on the table, too. If he performs at an elite level, he might have made more through arbitration. But that player will more than make up for that with his first free-agent contract. He'll make huge money at that time."
At the other extreme, two sources confirmed yesterday that similar discussions the past two months with Capps, 24, have fizzled.
The reason: The Colorado Rockies last week signed closer Manny Corpas, 25, to a four-year deal with a guaranteed $8.53 million, plus two club option years that could pay $14 million more. Corpas forfeited a year of free agency with one of those option years. That raised the industry bar for young closers and prompted Capps' representatives to do likewise.
The Pirates pulled back and will give Capps the standard one-year contract that goes to most players with three or fewer years of experience. He made $401,000 last season.
As with Snell, the team can retain Capps' rights the next four years.
"I'm not worried about it," Capps said. "I'll just keep working hard and pitching well, and things will take care of themselves. I don't get the idea that any doors are closed."
The Pirates have 28 players with three or fewer years of experience on their 40-man roster, and all except Snell are certain to have a salary in the minimum range, with no one expected to be as much as $50,000 above it.
The one veteran with whom they still are discussing a long-term contract is first baseman Adam LaRoche, although there is not known to be anything new on that front.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published March 5, 2008 5:00 AM