Pirates sign five, avoid arbitration

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The Pirates avoided salary arbitration with all five of their remaining eligible players, agreeing to terms with them by the deadline Friday to exchange figures.

Second baseman Neil Walker, first baseman Gaby Sanchez, third baseman Pedro Alvarez and relief pitchers Mark Melancon and Vin Mazzaro agreed to one-year contracts for 2014. They joined Travis Snider, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal Thursday night.

The contracts, including Snider’s, added about $17 million to the 2014 payroll.

“Both parties should prefer to avoid that hearing room,” general manager Neal Huntington said this week. “It’s a tough process.”

Walker, who was a Super 2 player last season and was in his second out of four years of arbitration eligibility, will make $5.75 million, according to a source. Walker made $3.3 million in 2013. Sanchez, in his second of three years of eligibility, agreed to $2.3 million, up from $1.75 million last year.

Alvarez, who voided a $700,000 option for 2014 because he was eligible for arbitration for the first time, will make $4.25 million, according to a source. Melancon and Mazzaro, each eligible for the first time, will make $2,595,000 and $950,000 respectively.

Snider agreed to a $1.2 million contract.

The contracts increased the 2014 payroll commitments to $70.8 million for 16 players. Including the $5 million or so that will go to the nine players making at or around the major league minimum salary of $500,000 and the rest of the 40-man roster, their payroll will rise north of $76 million. The Houston Astros will pay $5.5 million of that toward pitcher Wandy Rodriguez’s salary.

The Pirates opened 2013 with an $80 million payroll — $13.5 million of which came from the Astros and the New York Yankees, who kicked in money for A.J. Burnett — and ended with a $74.6 million payroll, according to The Associated Press.

Walker, 28, hit .251 with a career-high 16 home runs in 2013. He went to the disabled list twice, once when his hand was spiked running the bases and another time due to an oblique injury.

Melancon, 28, served as a lights-out setup man and fill-in closer in 2013. He struck out 70 batters, walking only eight, in 71 innings and relied on his cut fastball en route to a 1.39 ERA. Melancon also made his first All-Star team.

Alvarez, 26, tied for the National League lead with 36 home runs but also led the NL in strikeouts last season. He hit .233 with a .296 on-base percentage and joined Melancon on the All-Star team.

Sanchez, 30, hit .254 with a .361 on-base percentage in 320 plate appearances in 2013. He hit .333 with a .539 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers, but had a .619 on-base plus slugging percentage against right-handers.

The Pirates have looked at signing or trading for a first basemen, whether a left-handed platoon partner for Sanchez or an everyday starter, but have yet to find a comfortable fit.

Mazzaro, 27, pitched 732⁄3 innings in relief last season across 57 games. He stranded 78.6 percent of runners on base.

The Pirates started the offseason with nine arbitration-eligible players. They cut ties with first baseman-right fielder Garrett Jones in late November and did the same with backup catcher Michael McKenry in early December. Starting pitcher Charlie Morton signed a three-year, $21 million extension during the winter meetings in December. Jones signed with the Miami Marlins and McKenry signed a minor league contract Thursday with the Colorado Rockies, the team that drafted him.

The Pirates also traded for catcher Chris Stewart from the Yankees, who was arbitration-eligible but worked out a $1 million contract for 2014 at the time of the trade.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published January 17, 2014 11:51 AM

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