Put me down as an atheist when it comes to the baseball gods, as the existence of baseball gods would by logical extension confirm the existence of the Division I-AAA women's field hockey gods, but somebody somewhere certainly seemed to be sending a supernatural baseball message to the psychic address of Messrs. Sanchez and Wilson as twilight fell last night.
Padding around a clubhouse in a stadium that probably had fewer people in it than when it was under construction 10 years ago, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez likely peeked out enough to see The House Untruth Built enduring a drenching summer storm so dark, so dense, that it turned the cityscape soot-gray, the exact color of the Pirates' foreseeable future.
Partners in double-play grime since 2003, shortstop Wilson and All-Star second baseman and former National League batting champion Sanchez will, by all the telltale feel of existing tensions, be traded in the next 10 days or encouraged to leave town this winter as part of this endlessly convoluted process that ensures that for baseball in Pittsburgh, the future never comes.
If it's a trade of one or both, regardless of permutation -- two-team, three-team, multiplayer, one-for-one deal-- of this and only this can you be absolutely certain: the key player, the best player, will not be headed to Pittsburgh. Not this year or next, and likely not thereafter.
You can posit that Wilson should accept $8 million NuttingBucks for the next two seasons and be much obliged, and that Sanchez should be happy with $10 million for the same term, especially if they're genuine with on-the-record sentiments that this is where they want to play.
And that would be right, against every relevant backdrop of a ruinous economy, but Jack's and Fred's excellently comfortable predicament isn't about July 2009; it's about everything this organization has been wrong about since the rise of PNC Park, and well before.
Certainly from the moment ultra-promising 25-year-old Dominican Aramis Ramirez was sent to the Cubs six years ago Thursday, the Pirates have been largely unable to develop players and flatly incapable of keeping the few they do. Last year's soulless dismantling of one of baseball's best offensive outfields via the Jason Bay and Xavier Nady deals and this summer's stunning deportment of the productive and popular Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan firmly have established current management as having more in common with past sins than future promise.
The plan is always bold and forward-thinking and intensely, almost insanely analytical, but the execution is as depressingly reliable as the tempo for the Hokey Pokey at a McKees Rocks wedding. Ya put your best players in the trade market, ya take somebody else's dubious prospects out. That's what it's all about.
Why is it that the most prudent thing to do in 2009 or 2008 or 2005 or 2003 or 2001 or 1998 or 1994 concerning the future of the Pirates always results in a major league payroll that is low and flat and uncompetitive? For 17 years, no matter whose vision, whose plan, whose talents, whose analysis has been sculpting the future of the organization, the result remains a going-through-the-motions payroll at the big-league level?
I'm afraid that's beyond incompetence. It's self-delusion that plays like deceit.
Which is why this column will not have one bad word to say about Wilson or Sanchez after this week's alleged contract offers. Management agreed to pay Sanchez $8 million in 2010 if he got 600 plate appearances in 2009, then spent most of the season trying everything to avoid paying it, unless the mysterious early season "rests" and the flaring of his name in trade rumors and ultimately the low-ball "offer" that formally swept the agreed-to $8 million off the table are all misunderstandings.
Sanchez wants to stay here and play with Wilson until they are surrounded by enough competence to turn a typical July into something other than a wake. Wilson wants the same, but, like Sanchez, Wilson can't help notice the smell of deceit.
I don't think Wilson thinks he can do any better in the free-agent market than $4 million a year, but why would even consider it with Sanchez gone and the finish line pushed back another three, four, five years? Who would blame him if he took half that to play anywhere else?
The Wilson and Sanchez positions in all of this might not make perfect sense (even if they do to me), but management's position is logically bankrupt. You could argue without straining a quad that if the Pirates even have two good players, they are Wilson and Sanchez. What they have around them are two unproductive corner infielders, two undistinguished corner outfielders, a still unproven center fielder, and injury-prone catcher, and an overachieving pitching staff without a stopper or a top-shelf bullpen hammer. And priority one is, somehow, get rid of the small authentically major league portion of your major league roster, the part that just happens to have no conceivable replacement inventory anywhere in the system.
If Wilson and Sanchez are traded before the end of next week, the outcry from the stunningly robust number of people who still care will make everything that came before it seem like a whimper.
The Pirates need to give Sanchez his $8 million for 2010 and $5 million for 2011, give Wilson $9 million for both, boost the major league payroll to at least $80 million, and, instead of watching the Milwaukee Brewers beat you 17 times in row from a similar-sized market, instead of watching the Brewers add CC Sabathia for a pennant race one year and scout Roy Halladay the next, try something along those things yourselves.
If none of that works, at least you'll be able to say you are trying.
You can say it today, sure, but no one believes it.