The Pirates yesterday made their initial financial offers toward keeping shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and they drew decidedly mixed reactions.
The offer to Wilson, according to two sources, covers two years plus a club option. No money terms were divulged, but it was seen as competitive even though it represented a significant cut from his current $7.4 million salary. Wilson would prefer three guaranteed years.
But the initial offer to Sanchez, also made yesterday, was for two years and a total believed to be in the range of $10 million. That would represent a cut from his current salary of $6.25 million and, more striking, the total is $2 million more than the $8 million Sanchez is set to make in 2010 alone under the vesting option in his current contract, one that would be annulled under the Pirates' proposal.
Sanchez is on a comfortable pace to achieve the 600 plate appearances necessary to trigger that option.
Both offers, apparently, came with little flexibility on the Pirates' end, including an expiration date measured in no more than a few days. The team prefers to know quickly if either will sign so it can resume entertaining trade offers in advance of Major League Baseball's July 31 deadline.
Neither general manager Neal Huntington nor the players nor their agents would elaborate on the offers, but Paul Cobbe, Sanchez's agent, did allow that the start between the team and his client was not promising.
"We've had two respectful, professional discussions so far regarding Freddy," Cobbe said. "We have different points of view."
Huntington said the Pirates, in their calculations, weighed how much each player might get as a free agent this offseason, based on the effect of the general economy and sagging attendance in two-thirds of the majors' stadiums.
"This market is going to be extremely challenging for free agents," Huntington said. "To try to tag what it's going to be for these guys is next to impossible, so we didn't try. We simply said this is what we feel is appropriate for us as we move forward. If the players are interested, then great. We move forward. If not, they'll go out and see if they can get more this offseason."
Huntington made clear his view that they probably will not.
"It will be really interesting to find out how these offers stack up in the end. There's a chance they come out low or right on. But my guess is that there is a very good chance these offers come out better than what they'd end up with this offseason. I really believe that."
The mood in the Pirates' clubhouse went from soaring to sour not long after the news broke yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the team offering its middle infielders extensions, almost entirely because the Sanchez offer deflated hopes that he will stay. Some dismissed the team's offer as a public relations ploy by management, going through the motions to keep a popular player and three-time All-Star in advance of trading him.
Huntington took strong exception to the public relations suggestion, stressing that he was "very frustrated" that word of the talks leaked to the Post-Gazette.
"We did not want the discussions to be public," Huntington said. "If we had ulterior motives, we would have been the ones trumpeting that these negotiations were going on. We wanted to keep it quiet."
The Pirates are not currently discussing Sanchez in any trade talks, nor do they have any deal arranged.
Wilson and Sanchez reiterated their wish to remain together in Pittsburgh in facing a crowd of cameras and microphones at their adjacent stalls yesterday.
On the chance of something getting done, Wilson said, "We're hoping something does but, just because talks started doesn't mean something's going to happen. I'm ready for it either way. ... I could see a situation where we're on separate teams," Wilson said. "We could get traded. We could become free agents in 2 1/2 months. But, until they call me and say I'm not a Pirate ..."
Sanchez, on the same topic: "Me and Jack are pretty genuine people, and we've made our feelings known about how much we want to stay. We have to see how genuine everybody is about this."
Huntington was asked about Sanchez's "genuine" comment.
"Everything we've done is genuine," Huntington said. "We came at them with numbers we felt were very realistic, given the market, their age, their anticipated rate of production in the future. As we've said, we have to pay players for what they're going to do, not for what they've done."
Each player will turn 32 in December.
Catcher Ryan Doumit was asked what it would mean for the Pirates to keep both.
"It's vital," he replied. "Those guys are our heartbeat up the middle. If we don't have those guys ... we've seen other options. We've seen what it's like when they're not there. We need those guys."
If Wilson is signed to an extension, the Pirates will not be able to trade him without his consent beginning in 2010, when he would become what is known as a 10-and-5 player. Anyone with 10 years in the majors, five with the most recent team, has the collectively bargained right to veto a trade.