The Pirates are among a dozen teams pursuing free agent Jeff Suppan, the St. Louis Cardinals' best pitcher during their run to the World Series.
"There are a lot of teams reaching out, a tremendous amount of interest in Jeff," Suppan's agent, Scott Leventhal, said yesterday. "And Pittsburgh is one of those teams."
That might surprise some, given that Suppan should command an annual salary in the range of $8 million-$9 million over a span of three or four years. But the Pirates have roughly $14 million to spend this offseason, a figure that would rise to $17 million if they sever ties with Shawn Chacon, another right-handed starter.
Suppan, who will turn 32 in January, is seen as the class of the second tier of free agents, just below Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. This past season in St. Louis, he went 12-7 with a 4.12 ERA, then had a marvelous playoff in which he allowed one run in two starts in the National League Championship Series. His salary was $4 million.
The Pirates have two primary pieces on their wish list, a left-handed power hitter they hope to acquire through a trade and a reliable right-handed arm to complement Ian Snell in the rotation and offset the three left-handers, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny.
Suppan appears to fit the bill. He has made 31 or more starts each of the past eight years, and his 44 victories in the past three seasons are the most of any current free agent. His career numbers include a 106-101 record and a 4.50 ERA.
To boot, the Pirates know -- and still admire -- Suppan from his half-season with them in 2003. He went 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA in Pittsburgh, then was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the four-player deal that netted Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez.
The admiration, apparently, remains mutual.
"Jeff's stint in Pittsburgh is one of the things we've discussed," Leventhal said. "He very much enjoyed his time there."
Leventhal did not identify the other teams pursuing Suppan, but he told the San Francisco Chronicle three weeks ago that the Giants were among them. It is believed that the Cardinals are not.
Also yesterday, the Pirates nullified their previous contract with reliever Damaso Marte and signed him to a two-year extension worth a guaranteed $4.7 million, including a club option for 2009.
He will make $2.45 million next season, $2 million the following season, and the option is worth $6 million with a $250,000 buyout. Marte also can earn $750,000 annually in bonuses based on games finished, although that is an unlikely goal to achieve with the Pirates, as he seldom pitches the ninth inning.
Marte's previous contract had $3 million club options for 2007 and 2008, and the Pirates exercised the 2007 one over the weekend. Management wanted to pay Marte a lower salary, and Marte wanted his money guaranteed over the next two years, so the sides compromised and saved the team $1.55 million over that span.
"He's done a nice job overall," general manager Dave Littlefield said. "This was a chance for us to keep him for both of those former option years, and negotiate a price that worked for us."
The longer contract also could serve to enhance Marte's value in a trade. The Pirates' bullpen is one of their few deep areas, and dealing a reliever or two could help address other needs.
NOTES -- The Pirates and Chacon have had "a couple discussions" related to a new contract, agent Dan Horwits said. It is believed that the team wants Chacon to take a pay cut as large as $1 million off his previous salary of $3.6 million, but it is highly unlikely Chacon will accept any cut. ... Chacon had said in September that he planned to have offseason surgery on a long-nagging injury to his right knee -- thought to be a torn meniscus -- but he never had any procedure. He and the Pirates agreed that rehabilitation was all that was needed, Horwits said. ... The Pirates signed two players to minor-league contracts, right-handed starter Ronald Belisario and outfielder Jonel Pacheco. Belisario, 24, was on the Florida Marlins' 40-man roster two years ago but has not pitched since then because of injury. He had a 22-23 record in the minors. Pacheco, 24, batted .264 with 10 home runs in Class A last season.Jeff Suppan
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Suppan by the numbers
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com .