Snell, Bucs reach long-term agreement

Snell, Bucs reach long-term agreement

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As one who is never afraid to speak his mind, Ian Snell made it no secret over the past year that he wanted to be in Pittsburgh for the rest of his professional career.

Snell took a large step toward forging a long-lasting relationship with the club on Sunday, when he and the Pirates announced that the two sides had reached a long-term agreement that could potentially keep the right-hander in Pittsburgh through 2012.

"It's a big accomplishment for me," Snell said at a makeshift press conference just to the side of right field at McKechnie Field. "I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh. Hopefully, it's a long stay. I want to stay and build winning seasons right now."

The agreement includes three guaranteed years, as well as club options for 2011 and '12. It is reported to be worth $8 million over the first three years, with options totaling at least another $16 million.

Snell would have been arbitration-eligible for three seasons beginning in 2009, meaning that if both club options are exercised, the Pirates would have Snell locked down through his first year of free agency.

Snell, who enters this season with just over two years of Major League service time, initially had his contract for 2008 renewed by the club early last week after the two sides couldn't come to an agreement on a one-year deal. However, Snell's agent, Joe Sroba, and the Pirates continued to negotiate on a longer deal that ultimately came to fruition on Sunday.

Talks about a multiyear deal had been in the works for a few weeks, though general manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday that the negotiations picked up steam in the last seven to 10 days. Snell had first approached the Pirates about a long-term deal in the middle of last season, but at the time, the 26-year-old right-hander was rebuffed by the former management group.

After a changeover in the front-office regime this past fall, however, the interest in getting a long-term deal done became mutual.

"This deal wouldn't have gotten done if it hadn't been for Neal Huntington and [Pirates vice president and general counsel] Larry Silverman," Sroba said. "I think it's started with the new ownership, but there is definitely a new tone there in the organization. I was very impressed."

According to Sroba, the two sides exchanged approximately 12 counterproposals before the deal was ultimately finalized.

"We ended up making concessions to a greater extent than we had anticipated," Sroba said. "And I am sincerely convinced that they made just as many concessions in order to get this done at well. Maybe that's the best sign that it was a deal that was worth getting done."

Sroba didn't expound on those concessions, simply stating that they were both financial and structural.

For Snell, the commitment from management to make him one of the young pieces to build this club around is yet another victory in his battle to prove all his naysayers wrong.

After being a 26th-round selection in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Snell moved up the Pirates' organizational ladder, always hearing the murmurs of how he wasn't big enough and wasn't strong enough to make it as a big league starter.

Snell felt that he should have already made his point by making a quick climb through the farm system, which included pitching a no-hitter at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2005. But it never quite felt that way to him.

"I've always felt like I had to prove people wrong," said the 5-foot-11 right-hander. "I always find something to drive me. That's just my mentality."

Snell said that mentality won't change now, and that he'll continue to play with a chip on his shoulder. Only this time, he'll do it with a little more financial stability. And as for that chip, it will now be proving that he's worth the Pirates' investment.

"I can't wait to get the ball and show them that I've earned it," Snell said. "To me, it's not really about the money. It's more about winning. I want to bring winning back to Pittsburgh. I want to finish my career here."

Snell went 9-12 last season, but he finished the year leading the staff in ERA with a 3.76 mark. His 208 innings pitched, 177 strikeouts and 32 starts were also all team highs. Though he didn't earn an All-Star nod, he produced a dominant enough first half to at least be considered.

Even with some hiccups in the second half, Snell finished the year with the National League's 13th-best ERA, along with an average of 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings -- the 10th-best such ratio in the league.

Snell's first full Major League season came in 2006, when the right-hander finished 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA and 169 strikeouts also in 32 starts.

"Over the last couple of years, he has shown to be one of the best young pitchers in baseball," Huntington said. "He's an absolute competitor. He gives you a competitive outing every time he comes out. He's a tireless competitor."

Led by Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly, the Pirates have made it a priority to begin locking up some of the organization's young talent. Doing so offers financial stability to the player in turn for the Pirates being able to, as is the case here, eliminate having to potentially outbid other clubs in Snell's first year of free agency.

This year already, the Pirates signed All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez to a two-year, $11 million deal, with a club option that would buy out Sanchez's first year of free agency.

While Huntington wouldn't reveal whether or not the Pirates were currently negotiating possible multiyear deals with any other player in the organization, Huntington did say that the team will continually be looking to work out deals like the one they agreed to with Snell this weekend.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.