Hot Stove: Prices for Bay, Wilson might be 'outrageous'

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The Pirates are not shopping Jason Bay or Jack Wilson.

That was the insistence of general manager Neal Huntington earlier this week in his PNC Park office.

"No, none of our players is being actively shopped," he said.

In the same breath, though ...

"If a club calls and inquires about one of our players, we have to listen. That's just where we are."

Huntington often has repeated that the Pirates must improve their organizational depth, especially in Class AAA, even if that means making moves he feels will be "not popular."

Trading Bay or Wilson would not be well received by the general public, of course, particularly if the return would be minor-leaguers that only diehard seamheads could identify. Some would complain about another rebuilding. Others would accuse ownership of taking more profits, given that Bay is due $13.25 million and Wilson $14.25 million over the next two years.

To the latter count, Huntington was adamant that money is not the decisive factor, even though projections of 2008 player salaries show that keeping the current group intact will be a tight squeeze under ownership's ceiling in the range of $50 million.

"We don't have any pressure to move any payroll whatsoever," Huntington said. "If there's a good baseball trade that brings us good, young players for a player who's making some money, that's something we'll explore. But we don't have to move anybody at all."

That was the message, Huntington added, that he sent to his peers at the general managers' meetings earlier this month in Orlando, Fla. In a new wrinkle, each team addressed the large room to outline its offseason personnel goals, some going so far as to announce which players were available through trade.

Huntington recalled his speech as being simple:

"We stood up and said that we're interested in making good baseball trades and that we need to add depth to our system."

And the meaning of "good baseball trades" was that other teams should not expect outright salary dumps?

"Exactly. For certain players, our asking price is outrageous, and we acknowledge that. We feel there are guys on this club who are a big part of our core."

Industry insiders dispute the notion that the Pirates are not shopping Bay. As one agent put it this week, "I'm hearing his name all over the place. That doesn't happen by accident."

The one party confirmed to have spoken to the Pirates about Bay is Cleveland, and that should be no surprise. For one, Huntington came from the Indians and knows their system better than any. A rookie general manager will want to be ultra-certain about the return for someone like Bay. For another, the Indians are a good match, having exceptional depth of starting pitching and catching.

From the Pirates' standpoint, outfield is their lone area of depth, with Xavier Nady -- who might be Plan B to get dealt if no good return is found for Bay -- along with Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Chris Duffy, Steve Pearce, Ryan Doumit and top prospect Andrew McCutchen.

"I'm not sure we have excess anywhere," Huntington said. "But yeah, if you look at our outfielders, we have enough for the major-league club and Triple-A."

Trading Wilson would be more complicated, if only because the Pirates have no firm alternative at shortstop since Cesar Izturis' release last week. Brian Bixler is a promising prospect, but he has yet to appear in the majors, and a trial-by-fire shortstop in 2008 would be a great risk.

Still, perhaps because of an unusually lively market for shortstops this offseason, Huntington will not rule out listening to offers.

"As we sit here today, Jack's our shortstop. Again, I'm not looking to shop anybody but, if the right baseball deal exists, we'll look at it."

Sounds like there is one exception, though, judging by Huntington's response when asked what it would take to part with young starters Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell or Paul Maholm.

"I don't envision a deal where that happens."

Buried treasure

• If Duffy is not traded, there is a great chance he will open next season in Class AAA. The new management wants to see him demonstrate his health, as well as a consistent level of play -- and passion -- before giving him another sustained chance in Pittsburgh.

• However anyone wishes to characterize the Pirates' recent front office changes, do not call it a housecleaning. All six of Dave Littlefield's special assistants -- Pete Vuckovich, Jax Robertson, Jackie Bowen, Louie Eljaua, Jesse Flores and Roy Smith -- are staying on board. Littlefield's assistant, Doug Strange, was shifted to special assistant. Huntington has added two new faces, Chuck Tanner and Larry Corrigan, to those ranks.

• Six arbitration-eligible players remain, now that utilityman Josh Phelps was a surprising cut Tuesday, and another could be whittled before contract offers are tendered Dec. 12: Infielder Jose Castillo, who made $1.9 million last season, is seen by many in management as a poor fit for the "culture of success" the team often cites as its goal.

Neil Walker, shifted from catcher to third base by previous management last spring, will remain at the hot corner. Kyle Stark, the new director of player development, said Walker has impressed defensively in the Mexican League this fall -- despite six errors in 37 games at the position -- while batting .278 with four home runs.

• Only 81 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at .


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