Spring training: Sanchez wants to stay a Pirate

Second baseman can trigger 2010 option by making 635 plate appearances

TAMPA, Fla. -- Most players say they want to stay with their current employer.

Freddy Sanchez not only believes it with a palpable passion, but also has the unusual ability to make it happen unilaterally.

The Pirates' second baseman has a contract clause for a vesting option that triggers a guaranteed $8 million salary in 2010 if he makes 635 plate appearances in the coming season, or if he makes 600 plate appearances and is invited to the All-Star Game. The team can exercise that option, too, if it chooses.

"Yeah, I know, and I am aware of it," Sanchez said before going 2 for 3 with a double and a sacrifice fly in the 9-8 loss to the New York Yankees yesterday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. "But, honestly, that's not how I'm thinking about this. Not at all."

What Sanchez seeks, as he makes plenty clear, is to remain in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future because of his view that the Pirates are on the verge of winning.

"I definitely feel like I could be part of this. I want to be part of this," Sanchez said. "With the atmosphere here now, the level of instruction ... I want to be here. I want to be one of the players who was on that team that turned the Pirates around. To play with all these kids ... I still feel young enough to fit in."

And that clause?

"That's just a matter of staying healthy and playing the way I know I can play. Obviously, it's in my mind to an extent. It's going to dictate where I'm going to be. But I really don't want it to be a factor. I think, if we all go out and play the way we can, myself included, everything will take care of itself."

Sanchez, 31, is coming off a down-then-up 2008 in which he needed a .346 second half -- fourth-best in the National League after the All-Star break -- just to end up at .271. His nagging right shoulder bugged him all summer, and his defense suffered at times.

He is batting .279 this spring, with a home run and eight RBIs, but those modest totals are no match for how he sees himself.

"I just feel great," Sanchez said. "It's so good to be able to come to the ballpark healthy, and I can't say enough about how I feel this team is coming together."

His actions speak louder, anyway.

Start with Pedro Alvarez.

Sanchez was as skeptical as most on the major league roster about the Pirates' $6.355 million first-round draft pick, but he quickly was impressed to the extent that he embraced the role of mentor.

"We talked a lot while he was here, and you could just tell he was absorbing everything," Sanchez said. "This kid is going to be a superstar, and I mean that off the field, too."

From there, Sanchez looked around and saw other youngsters, from Andrew McCutchen to Neil Walker to Andy LaRoche to Brandon Moss, and began envisioning how they might eventually look on the diamond.

"Look at our middle," he said, referring to himself, shortstop Jack Wilson, catcher Ryan Doumit and center fielder Nate McLouth. "Now, look at these young players and how they could fit in right around us. Imagine that. It would be just unbelievable."

So, Sanchez shared this with Wilson, his close friend, late last week, going so far as to urge Wilson -- whose contract can expire after this season -- to approach management about an extension. Wilson did precisely that by mid-week, with the Pirates responding agreeably.

"Why not?" Sanchez asked. "Why couldn't it be me and Jack up the middle?"

And if Wilson were not around?

The memory remains fresh for all involved that the Pirates aggressively shopped Wilson for a trade this offseason, only to be dissatisfied by the baseball returns offered.

"If Jack's not here, obviously, that would be tough, just like it was when J-Bay and X were gone," Sanchez said, referring to Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, each traded last July. "But I still want to be here."

Wilson's view on Sanchez's future?

"That's up to Freddy and the organization, if they see him in their plans," Wilson said. "All I know is that Freddy's really open to staying here."

"That's the goal for me, to be a part of this," Sanchez said. "I've been part of the losing. I want to be part of the winning."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . First Published March 30, 2009 4:00 AM


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