The Pittsburgh Pirates, desperate to keep the popular Jason Kendall when they move to their new ballpark next season, have offered the All-Star catcher a six-year contract worth as much as $60 million.
Kendall has not accepted the proposal and his agent, Dan Lozano, told the Pirates that both sides must be "creative" to get a deal done.
Kendall, who is making $2.25 million this season, is signed only through next season. If the Pirates decide they can't go any higher with their offer, they may have to trade Kendall before next season to avoid losing him to free agency.
Although Kendall has spent his entire five-year career with the Pirates, he grew up in Southern California and has often said he doesn't want to live anywhere else. The San Diego Padres reportedly are interested in trading for him should the Pirates decide they have no choice but to trade him.
Kendall, who is with the Pirates on a road trip that ends Thursday, has said only that "I leave that stuff to my agent" and "I'm just concentrating on playing baseball."
"Everybody knows I want to stay with the Pirates," said Kendall, who recently played in the All-Star game for the third time in five years. "You don't see many players stay with one team for their whole careers like they used to, and I'd like to be one of those guys."
However, because the Pirates' offer would seem to be well above market value for a catcher who does not drive in a lot of runs, some in the organization are questioning if Kendall is sincere in wanting to stay.
Kendall had eight homers and 30 RBIs through 91 games and was dropped from No. 3 to No. 2 in the batting order. By contrast, Texas catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, whose $8.2 million salary would be less than Kendall would make under his proposed deal, had 26 homers and 81 RBIs through 91 games.
"Everybody knows we've been discussing a contract with Jason Kendall," general manager Cam Bonifay said. "It's one of the most important steps for this organization."
The Pirates have not said so publicly, but they are concerned that losing Kendall might have a negative impact on ticket sales as they move from Three Rivers Stadium into 38,000-seat PNC Park next season.
The Pirates' carefully mapped plan to spur sales by fielding a contender this season while re-signing top players has been derailed by one of their most disappointing seasons in years. Losing Kendall could even sidetrack that strategy even more.
The poor season likely will result in massive offseason overhaul that almost certainly will include the firing of manager Gene Lamont, whose contract runs out after this season. Owner Kevin McClatchy has given no sign he is even considering bringing back Lamont.
But the Pirates badly want to keep Kendall, who has made a remarkable comeback from a potentially career-threatening ankle injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season. A $60 million contract would be the biggest in club history, eclipsing outfielder Brian Giles' recent $45 million, six-year deal.
Such a contract would be worth only $35 million less than McClatchy paid for the team in 1996 and would make Kendall the majors' second highest-paid catcher, behind the Mets' Mike Piazza.
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