Joining the flurry of contract settlements before the next phase of baseball's arbitration season, the Pirates on Friday cleared their docket of potential cases with agreements with their five remaining players eligible for the process.
Those accords included one-year deals with second baseman Neil Walker and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, as well as with first baseman Gaby Sanchez and relievers Mark Melancon and Vin Mazzaro. Outfielder Travis Snider had been the first of six eligible players to agree, on Thursday night.
Walker came to terms with the most lucrative deal at $5.75 million. But of the six arbitration-eligible players reaching agreements with the Bucs, Alvarez was regarded the most likely to reach a hearing in front of a three-member panel, and for good reason: A solid case as the National League's co-leader with 36 home runs.
General manager Neal Huntington avoided that potential showdown with an agreement for $4.25 million, a raise of more than 600 percent over Alvarez's 2013 salary of $700,000.
Walker received a bump from $3.3 million in his second go at arbitration.
Sanchez ($2.3 million), Melancon ($2.595 million) and Mazzaro ($950,000) brought to 16 the number of signed players on the Pirates' 40-man roster, representing a total commitment of $71 million. The club had ended the 2013 season with a payroll of $74.6 million.
Sanchez batted .254 last season, with seven homers and 36 RBIs in 136 games, and is a frontrunner to be the Bucs' primary first baseman in 2014. The six-year veteran did most of his damage against southpaw pitching -- batting .333 in 102 at-bats against lefties -- but Pirates leadership feels strongly he could be a productive everyday player, although it remains on the lookout for a lefty bat to platoon him with.
Walker is considered a key to the Bucs' offensive improvement in the coming season. Fighting through multiple minor injuries, the switch-hitter slumped to a .251 average in 2013, when he drove in a career-low 53 runs.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.