Pirates eyeing Bako to compete at catcher

Another free-agent pursuit, Estrada, chooses Nationals

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The Pirates lost out on Johnny Estrada yesterday, but another free-agent catcher should be added soon.

The team is negotiating with Paul Bako, who spent all of last season with Baltimore, on a minor-league contract that would include an invitation to spring training. Bako, 35, batted .205 with a home run and eight RBIs in 60 games for the Orioles and has a .233 average over 10 seasons in the majors.

If the Pirates sign Bako, he could compete with two other non-roster invitees, Raul Chavez and Michel Hernandez, to be Ronny Paulino's backup. The Pirates also could choose Ryan Doumit, a catcher and outfielder, although their preference for him is the outfield.

Estrada yesterday agreed to terms with the Washington Nationals on a one-year contract worth $1.25 million in base pay plus incentive bonuses.

The Pirates, a finalist in the bidding, are believed to have offered a comparable deal but sought a club option for 2009. Estrada's agent, David Schwartz, insisted his client wanted only one year because he wants to retest free agency in 2009 after a subpar season with Milwaukee -- .278 average, only 11 of 84 runners caught stealing -- lowered his value.

"This past week, I had a couple of teams that were bidding against each other, and they both wanted me to come," Estrada told reporters in Washington. "I came close to signing with Pittsburgh, but I really didn't want to sign there."

He did not elaborate.



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