The Pirates completed their multiyear contract with catcher Ryan Doumit with a news conference yesterday at PNC Park but, to hear team president Frank Coonelly tell it, that might be it for the winter as far as internal extensions.
It became known last week that talks toward a multiyear contract with center fielder Nate McLouth were "close to dead," as agent Mike Nicotera described them. And Coonelly made clear yesterday that the same appears true of talks with starter Paul Maholm, the only other arbitration-eligible player the team has approached.
"It is entirely possible that this will be the only player with whom we reach a multiyear contract this year," Coonelly said of Doumit. "We have had difficulty persuading the representatives of the other players that multiyear contracts signed by comparable players have any relevance at all, and that the annual salaries in contracts buying out arbitration years must reflect that the risks of injury and below-expected performance shifts from the player to the club."
Maholm's agent, Bo McKinnis, has not returned phone calls for weeks.
Arbitration-eligible players who do not sign extensions instead will get the standard one-year offers. McLouth and Maholm each has all three years of arbitration ahead of him, after which he can become a free agent.
The Doumit contract, in stark contrast, was being hailed by both parties: The Pirates secured the rights to their starting catcher for five years, through 2013, by guaranteeing three years and adding a club option for two more. For Doumit, the guaranteed value is $11.5 million, the maximum roughly $27 million.
• There is a $300,000 signing bonus.
• The salaries for the guaranteed part of the contract are $2.05 million next season, $3.55 million for 2010, $5.1 million for 2011. Those buy out all three years of Doumit's arbitration eligibility.
• The salaries for the club option years are $7.25 million in 2012, $8.25 million the following season. The option, which covers both years, must be exercised or rejected by late 2011. A buyout would cost $500,000.
• There also are incentive and escalator clauses that increase the total value of the contract by $1 million or more. The most prominent escalator: If Doumit is named an All-Star once in the first three years, the salary on each of the two option years goes up by $125,000, by $350,000 if named twice, by $500,000 if named in all three.
The contract raised to four the number of multiyear extensions reached under Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, along with second baseman Freddy Sanchez and pitchers Ian Snell and Matt Capps.
None has reached as far into the future as this one.
"This contract has raised the bar in our eyes, in our fans' eyes and in Ryan's eyes," Huntington said.
Some might see the term as jarring, given that Doumit, 27, had a history of injuries leading into a healthy, productive 2008 in which he batted .318 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs.
"This contract did not happen because Ryan Doumit had a great year," Huntington said. "It happened because he worked hard, gave it all he had, showed team dedication and proved himself to be someone we could build around. And he's not done. There's more to come."
It was Huntington who, in a closed-door meeting with Doumit in late 2007, stepped out of his typically congenial personality and issued what, by all accounts, was a rather harshly worded challenge.
"And you know what?" Doumit was recalling with a grin yesterday. "He didn't say anything that wasn't true."
By Doumit's admission, he was "carrying 20 extra pounds" at the time and, apparently more galling in Huntington's eyes, did not seem fully aware of his potential.
"He told me, 'Look, we need you to be a great player, not a good one.' " Doumit said.
"The credit goes to Ryan," Huntington said of the exchange. "We saw potential, but we felt it was untapped. We felt like part of that, as an organization, was our fault. Part of it was on his end. We spoke to him about it, and he could have had it go in one ear and out the other. But he didn't."
Huntington also credited manager John Russell, who, along with senior adviser Chuck Tanner, pushed hard this past spring to end the experimentation of Doumit in right field and first base and get him back behind the plate.
Doumit seemed genuinely moved by the signing, recalling that he nearly broke down last week when told some of the financial terms by his longtime agent, Paul Cobbe.
"Oh, man, I can't relate to you what I feel right now," Doumit said. "But I also know that, with a contract like this come high expectations. And no one has higher expectations than I do. I believe in myself. I know what type of player I can be, and I know what type of player the fans expect. It's my job and my duty as a Pittsburgh Pirate to give those fans everything I have."
Doumit was asked about the Pirates' chances for a successful 2009, particularly in light of shortstop Jack Wilson's public comment last week in which he called upon management to acquire "more players."
After a deep breath, Doumit replied: "The players want to win, and we believe we can win. But you know what? We can say this to each other until we're blue in the face. It's time for players to man up and play like they can. Don't look around. Don't worry about which guy isn't doing it. Don't point fingers. Be accountable for your own actions. If we can get nine guys to be accountable for their own actions, we should be fine."
Doumit never referenced Wilson. Instead, he seemed focused on the pitching staff that he handled and wound up the worst in Major League Baseball in 2008.
"This is the major leagues," he continued. "This isn't the place for babysitting. And I know some of those guys are disappointed in themselves, but they should be. They are better than that. They've all proven that."