Pirates finish deals with Kolb, Sanchez
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The Pirates found some relief yesterday, in more ways than one.
On one front, they added experience to the bullpen by agreeing to terms with free agent Dan Kolb on a one-year, minor-league contract. If Kolb makes the 25-man roster out of spring training, as appears quite likely, he will receive a salary of $1.25 million, plus as much as $1.3 million in performance bonuses based on appearances and games finished. If he is not added to the roster by March 30, he can declare himself a free agent.
On another front, the Pirates avoided arbitration with National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez by agreeing to a one-year contract with a $2.75 million salary, plus a $10,000 bonus if he makes 650 plate appearances.
The parties' arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Thursday, and each side had expressed eagerness to avoid what often is a contentious process.
"The Pirates, to their credit, were committed to get it done before the hearing," said Paul Cobbe, Sanchez's agent. "We did it with five days to spare."
After two months of failing to agree on a one-year deal, the parties exchanged two-year offers last week -- at the Pirates' urging -- and nearly came to terms. But, when that resulted in another stalemate, they went back to the one-year plan and ended up with a salary figure closer to the $3.1 million that Sanchez had submitted through arbitration than the team's $2.15 million.
"We never got to a spot that was completely comfortable for everybody," Cobbe said of the two-year tries. "And I think that's understandable. This really was a difficult case to evaluate because of Freddy's unique, outstanding achievement last year."
The arbitration process generally weighs the player's entire career rather than just the previous year. Sanchez was considered by the Pirates to be a utilityman early last season but wound up with a .344 average and played in the All-Star Game.
"You show me a bench guy who's won the batting title in the same year," Cobbe said. "I can't think of one other example."
Even though Sanchez is signed for only one year, the Pirates can -- and surely will -- retain his rights for the next three years through arbitration.
The Pirates wasted little time with Kolb, opening talks Wednesday with agent Damon Lapa and striking a deal yesterday afternoon.
Kolb had hoped for a major-league contract that would have guaranteed a place on the 40-man roster, but that never came. What separated the Pirates from the other two interested parties, the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals, was what Kolb saw as a better opportunity to establish himself anew as a premier late-inning reliever.
"Ultimately, all things being equal, Dan wanted the chance he saw with the Pirates," Lapa said.
Closer Salomon Torres, Matt Capps, John Grabow and Damaso Marte are the Pirates' only relievers with at least a full season of experience.
Kolb, who will turn 32 next month, is coming off two subpar seasons after two exceptional ones.
As the Milwaukee Brewers' closer in 2003-04, he recorded 60 saves in 67 chances with a 2.55 ERA and pitched in the All-Star Game. But, with the Atlanta Braves in 2005, his ERA swelled to 5.93, and he lost the closer's job by blowing 11 of 18 saves. Last season, back with the Brewers, he had a 4.84 ERA, albeit with an efficient second half.
The Pirates and Kolb agreed to waive a physical until spring training, but the signing will not be official until early next week because of paperwork.
NOTES -- The Pirates' only remaining arbitration-eligible player is second baseman Jose Castillo. His hearing is scheduled for Feb. 14, but the sides are expected to reach agreement before then. Castillo filed a salary figure of $2.2 million, the team $1.8 million. ... The Pirates' payroll, with 13 players signed to major-league contracts, is $32.1 million. ... Kolb's addition raises the number of players invited to major-league camp in spring training to 66.
First Published February 4, 2007 12:00 am