Mesa signs one-year, $2.5 million contract

Updated: November 11, 2004, 2:38 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates brought back their two top relievers Thursday, agreeing with closer Jose Mesa on a $2.5 million, one-year contract and with setup man Salomon Torres on a two-year deal that avoided salary arbitration.

Mesa, who converted 43 of 48 saves chances during his 2004 comeback season, will make $2 million next year, with Pittsburgh getting a $4 million option for 2006 that includes a $500,000 buyout. Mesa had a $800,000 base salary last season and earned $465,000 in performance bonuses after signing with Pittsburgh as a minor league free agent.

The right-handed Mesa was let go by the Phillies after losing the closer's job in 2003, when he went 5-7 with a 6.52 ERA and converted 24 of 28 save opportunities. He enjoyed a consistent season with the Pirates except for one brief stretch of ineffectiveness in August and was praised by manager Lloyd McClendon for his work with the club's young relievers.

"My first choice was to come back here," Mesa had said at the end of the season.

Mesa, who will be 39 in May, converted his first 18 save opportunities and his final 10 with Pittsburgh and became just the sixth pitcher in major league history with four seasons of 40 or more saves. The Pirates were the only team to offer him a closer's job after the Phillies failed to exercise his 2004 club option.

Mesa didn't blow a save after failing to convert an Aug. 19 opportunity against the Cardinals and has 292 career saves.

This will be the first time in McClendon's five seasons as manager the Pirates will go into spring training with their top relievers already set.

"It's been like an Abbott and Costello skit: 'Who's on first, who's on second and I don't know who's closing,' " McClendon said Thursday. "It certainly is a good feeling. I'm been telling people this is first time I won't feel like a politician, having to sell this club. I feel good about this club, particularly with Mesa at the back end of the bullpen."

Torres, 32, made $750,000 while going 7-7 with a 2.64 ERA in a team-high 84 appearances last season -- the most by a Pirates reliever since Kent Tekulve pitched in 85 games in 1982. Torres was fourth among NL relievers in innings pitched with 92 for the Pirates, who were fifth in the NL Central at 72-89.

Torres is 16-13 with two saves and a 3.70 ERA in 130 games over the last three seasons, or what effectively is his second major league career. He did not pitch in organized baseball during 1998-2001 and spent two years as the pitching coach for the Montreal Expos' Dominican Republic summer league affiliate before signing a minor league deal with the Pirates.

Previously, Torres was 11-25 mostly as a starter with the Giants, Mariners and Expos during 1993-97, never once having a winning season.

The Pirates also formally made a long-expected move by declining to exercise their $3 million option on right-handed reliever Brian Boehringer, who didn't pitch again after going on the disabled list June 2 with right shoulder tendinitis. He was 1-1 with a 4.62 ERA in 21 games.

General manager Dave Littlefield said when the season ended that Boehringer, 34, would not return.

Boehringer was 4-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 70 games in 2002 before signing a $3.8 million, two-year contract. He was 5-4 with a 5.49 ERA in 62 games in 2003.

During that two-year contract, Boehringer was 6-5 with a 5.23 ERA in 87 2-3 innings, allowing 51 earned runs and 91 hits. He gets a $300,000 buyout.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press