And Ryan Doumit will be there through it all, as a building block now and, the Pirates hope, as a cornerstone later.
By the end of the 2008 season, Pirates management had identified three players -- Doumit, Nate McLouth and Paul Maholm -- as integral pieces to the organization. Management went into the offseason with plans to try to sign each to a multiyear deal that would cover years of arbitration and potentially years of free agency as well. The goal: to lock down the foundation for future success.
Check Doumit's name off that list.
The organization announced on Monday that Doumit has signed a three-year extension, which also includes a club option to extend the deal through 2012 and 2013. Word that an agreement had been reached surfaced on Sunday, though the deal didn't become official until after Doumit passed a physical in Pittsburgh on Monday morning.
If the club option is exercised through 2013, Doumit is in line to make at least $26.5 million over the next five years. Doumit's salary will be $2.05 million in 2009, $3.55 million in 2010 and $5.1 million in 2011. He also picked up a $300,000 signing bonus.
There is one club option that would exercise both 2012 and 2013 if the Pirates decide to do so. That option would pay Doumit $7.25 million in 2012 and $8.25 in 2013. The club also has the option of a $500,000 buyout.
A number of incentives are also attached to the contract that could potentially push the deal to over $27 million over five years.
"This contract has raised the bar in our eyes, in our fans' eyes and in Ryan's eyes," Huntington said. "He wants to be a great player, and he has to live up to this."
Though Doumit was under contract for the next three years, the extension gives the organization cost certainty in planning out future payrolls. The club options, if exercised, would also buy out Doumit's first and second years of free agency.
Looking genuinely humble from the podium at a press conference on Monday, Doumit relayed a sense of responsibility that comes along with the financial security that this contract gives him.
"Wow," he started. "I can't relate to you what I feel right now. But I also know that, with a contract like this comes high expectations. And no one has higher expectations of me than I do.
"I believe in myself," he continued. "I know what type of player I can be, and I know what type of player the fans expect. It's my job and my duty as a Pittsburgh Pirate to give those fans everything I have."
For those who spent time in the clubhouse watching the '08 team, it became evident that Doumit's role was quickly evolving into that of a clubhouse leader. On the field, he was one of the team's most potent offensive catalysts. And off the field, he was emerging as a fiery, outspoken leader -- a young Doug Mientkiewicz, of sorts.
"You're either on board or you aren't," he said of his attitude moving forward. "There are certain guys on this team who are on board. Everyone knows what it takes to win, and everyone wants to win. We're going to right this ship, and it's going to start with Day 1 of Spring Training. I truly believe there are going to be some special things happening."
It may seem surprising that such a large contract would be given to a player who has been a starter for just one year. However, it quickly became clear last spring that management saw Doumit as a critical component of the organization's offense long term.
More than anyone, it was new manager John Russell who saw something in Doumit right out of the chute. And being a former Major League catcher himself, Russell, along with coach Luis Dorante, tutored Doumit extensively this season, and the results of Doumit's work defensively were evident.
"JR obviously knew Ryan as a prospect, and JR recognized that Ryan was different and believed in him," Huntington said. "JR came in and allowed Doumit to compete for the starting catching job. The improvements that Doumit made behind the plate last year were substantial, even if there is still room for further improvement."
Add in Doumit's eventual offensive production, and that only solidified management's early assessments.
The switch-hitting catcher hit .318 overall with 15 homers and 69 RBIs in 116 games and finished with a .357 on-base percentage. He led all National League catchers with a .323 batting average and led the league with his .407 average with runners in scoring position.
It was quite the revelation for a player who had been limited in playing time during his first three years in the Majors because of injuries and then-starter Ronny Paulino.
"No, I wouldn't have believed [a year ago] I'd be standing here," Doumit said. "I was an outfielder and then back to catching and ... there was a lot of hard work that went into it, and I'm just so honored to be in this position right now. I can't even tell you."
Doumit, a second-round selection in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, also used 2008 to break through the injury-prone label that had trailed him. He spent just one short stint on the disabled list in 2008, and this after the Pirates moved him back to being exclusively a full-time catcher.
Furthermore, Doumit's work ethic and offseason conditioning regimen became an oft-cited example by management and coaches to his teammates.
"This contract did not happen because Ryan Doumit had a great year," Huntington said. "It happened because he worked hard, gave it all he had, showed team dedication and proved himself to be someone we could build around. And he's not done. There's more to come."
Doumit, who earned $412,000 last season, is the first of seven arbitration-eligible players that the Pirates have now signed. Though the club attempted to sign McLouth, a first-time arbitration eligible player, to a multiyear deal, Pirates president Frank Coonelly characterized those negotiations as not looking good. As a result, the two sides will now likely focus their efforts on reaching a one-year deal to avoid arbitration.
Negotiations with Maholm are in the early stages. The other four arbitration-eligible players -- Tyler Yates, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and John Grabow -- will likely come to one-year agreements as well.
Doumit is the fourth player that the Pirates have signed to a multiyear deal since Huntington and Coonelly assumed their positions late in 2007. Matt Capps, Freddy Sanchez and Ian Snell all signed similar deals early this year that bought out at least one year of arbitration eligibility.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.