Pirates ramp up pursuit of Ohka

Lawrence, another free-agent pitcher, chooses Rockies

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Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic


With Brian Lawrence out of the picture, the Pirates have escalated efforts to sign free-agent starter Tomo Ohka.

And they should know soon if there will be a payoff.

They had been one of three finalists for Ohka's services entering the weekend -- the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays were the others -- but the field grew to four yesterday with the addition of a mystery team. And that team's bid apparently was impressive enough that Ohka's agent, Jim Masteralexis, and his client will "take some time" to consider it.

Still, a decision by Ohka is expected in the next few days.

Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield reiterated late last week his wish to add a right-hander to the team's rotation, and his primary focus had been on two free-agent targets: Lawrence and Ohka. But Lawrence yesterday agreed to terms with Colorado on a one-year contract, plus a club option for 2008. Financial terms were not immediately known.

Page Odle, Lawrence's agent, said the Rockies "came down with a better overall offer" than the other three finalists, including the Pirates.

Lawrence, 30, missed all of last season because of surgery to repair extensive tears in his labrum and rotator cuff. Before that, he was 49-61 with a 4.10 ERA for the San Diego Padres from 2001-05.

Ohka surely will require a greater financial commitment. It is believed that all interested parties have offered a contract of at least two years and, given that he made $4.53 million last season with Milwaukee, the total cost could reach eight figures.

Ohka, 30, went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts for the Brewers last season while missing three months to injury. That included spending May 3-July 17 on the disabled list because of a partial tear of the rotator cuff in his throwing arm. The tear was deemed slight enough that Ohka did not have surgery and returned to pitch without incident until missing the final two weeks to a strained hamstring.

In eight years of Major League Baseball, Ohka is 48-57 with a 4.04 ERA.

Littlefield initially made contact with Masteralexis in November and, while the sides maintained communication throughout, the Pirates had remained on the periphery of talks until recently with an upgraded offer and, perhaps, another carrot: Ohka, a native of Japan who is moderately conversant in English, would welcome having a countryman for a teammate. The Pirates signed another Japanese pitcher, Masumi Kuwata, to a minor-league contract in December, and they might use that to help entice Ohka.

Masteralexis said Ohka's priority in choosing a team will be the opportunity presented.

"I think Tomo would fit in well with the Pirates and the young pitchers they have," Masteralexis said yesterday. "He knows English well enough that, if you dropped him off in the middle of Pittsburgh, he'd have no trouble taking care of himself. But I think what's most important is the example he can set for their pitchers. He's a tireless worker."


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


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