Pirates sign Sanchez, add Kolb to deep bullpen

Updated: February 3, 2007, 7:31 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez chose not to go to arbitration and agreed to a $2.75 million, one-year contract Saturday with the suddenly active Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates, who made almost no player moves for the first 3½ months of their offseason, signed former Brewers All-Star reliever Dan Kolb to a minor-league contract.

Sanchez, a reserve infielder when last season started but the Pirates' 25th NL batting champion when it ended, gets a big raise over the $342,000 he made last season. He sought $3.1 million in salary arbitration while the Pirates offered $2.15 million.

Given that Sanchez hit .344 during a virtually slump-free season and drove in 85 runs despite hitting only six homers, he appeared to have a good chance of winning an arbitration case that was to be argued Feb. 8.

Despite saying he wasn't worried the club would try to downplay his accomplishments during the arbitration hearing, the 29-year-old Sanchez chose to settle in advance. The Pirates' only remaining arbitration-eligible player is second baseman Jose Castillo, whose hearing is set Feb. 14.

"You've got to have thick skin through this process and I don't take anything personal," said Sanchez, who led the NL with 53 doubles. "I understand what's going to go on."

Sanchez's .344 average was five points higher than Florida's Miguel Cabrera. Sanchez's average was the highest for a full season by a Pirates player since Roberto Clemente hit .345 in 1969.

The Pirates began pursuing the 32-year-old Kolb after they dealt closer Mike Gonzalez to the Braves on Jan. 17 for first baseman Adam LaRoche, Kolb's former teammate in Atlanta.

Salomon Torres (3-6, 3.28 ERA, 12 saves) finished up last season as the Pirates' closer after Gonzalez sat out the final five-plus weeks with a sore left elbow. But Torres often pitches better in the second half of a season than the first, and adding Kolb gives the Pirates some protection should Torres not pitch well in April and May.

The right-handed Kolb, who turns 32 in March, was 2-2 with one save and a 4.84 ERA in 53 appearances as a Brewers setup reliever last season. He had a 2.75 ERA after the All-Star break, making 14 consecutive scoreless appearances at one point. Kolb allowed only eight runs over his final 25 appearances.

Kolb had 60 saves in 67 chances with a 2.55 ERA as the Brewers' closer in 2003 and 2004, making the NL All-Star team in 2004. But Kolb struggled after signing with Atlanta in 2005, going 3-8 with a 5.93 ERA and blowing saves in seven of 18 chances.

Kolb was seeking a spot on a 40-man roster, but the Pirates currently don't have an opening. Instead, they agreed to allow him to become a free agent if he doesn't make the team out of spring training.

Kolb is expected to join Torres and setup men Matt Capps and John Grabow, Damaso Marte in what looks to be one of the NL's deepest bullpens even without Gonzalez.

In 10 career appearances at PNC Park, Kolb has four saves and hasn't allowed a run in 10 1-3 innings, permitting six hits, striking out five and walking four.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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