One last time, the Pirates turned a double play with Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez.
In a whirlwind span of a few hours yesterday, the team continued the thorough rebuilding of its roster by trading its two most popular players: Wilson, along with pitcher Ian Snell, were sent to the Seattle Mariners for five players in the morning. And Sanchez was sent to the San Francisco Giants for one player in the evening.
As quick as 6-4-3.
"Crazy," Sanchez called the day.
"The deadline is unpredictable," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said last night, referring to Major League Baseball's 4 p.m. Friday trading deadline. "We thought we could have both those players back, then we thought we'd have one, and now this. But the reality is, we really feel very good about the returns. We know we gave up good players, but we like the quality and quantity we got back."
From Seattle, the Pirates received veteran shortstop Ronny Cedeno, Class AAA first baseman Jeff Clement and Class A pitchers Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin and Nathan Adcock.
The Pirates also will send $3,308,702.19 to cover most of the remaining 2009 salaries of Wilson and Snell. The Mariners are responsible for all 2010 obligations, including Snell's $4.25 million salary, and club option buyouts for Wilson and Snell. The Pirates' payment, according to team officials, was made to ensure the best return of prospects.
- Jack Wilson: The trade
- Freddy Sanchez: On Wilson being traded
- Paul Maholm: What Wilson means to him
- Manager John Russell: On Wilson and the trade
From the Giants, the Pirates received Class AA pitcher Tim Alderson, the best prospect culled on the day. He immediately becomes the Pirates' best pitching prospect, though that is saying little given the lack of organizational depth at that position.
No cash changed hands with the second trade.
Wilson, 31, was the Pirates' most tenured player, having been their everyday shortstop since the team moved into PNC Park in 2001 and an All-Star in 2004. He appeared in 1,128 games at his position, fourth-most in franchise history after Honus Wagner's 1,887, Arky Vaughan's 1,381 and Dick Groat's 1,242, and he likely will be remembered as one of the finest -- and flashiest -- defensive performers in franchise history.
He was batting .267 this season and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Sanchez, 31, was just selected for his third All-Star Game in six years with the Pirates, an honor bested only by his 2006 National League batting title.
He was batting .296 this season and was charged with only two errors all season.
Together, Wilson and Sanchez, inseparable best friends on and off the field, formed a double-play combination rivaled in the Pirates' 123-year history only by the Groat-Bill Mazeroski duo of the 1960s. The current team's 111 double plays are the most in the majors, even though improved pitching has resulted in fewer baserunners to erase.
Wilson and Sanchez also were among the Pirates' most active representatives in the community, participating in many charitable initiatives, and always were a hit with fans seeking autographs, photos or even hugs.
Each took the news hard.
In San Francisco, Wilson cried after getting his early-morning phone call from Huntington while riding in a taxi to AT&T Park, where the Pirates would later lose to the Giants, 1-0. He was emotional again when informing Sanchez -- "Freddy thought I was joking," Wilson recalled -- then in doing interviews.
"It's very tough," Wilson said. "I don't even know what to say, really. I'd love to have another chance to play in Pittsburgh to get back home and say goodbye to the fans. Once you hear the news ... I was pretty upset. To have that time to say goodbye to the people who really, really carried you through the good years and the bad."
Wilson paused while against getting visibly emotional.
"That's one thing you think about, not being able to go back. Hopefully, sometime in my career, I can show my appreciation to them."
Seattle is expected to visit PNC Park as an interleague opponent next summer.
Right after Wilson's trade, Sanchez declined interviews because he, too, was emotional.
Once composed, Sanchez said of Wilson, "Jack in my mind is the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's the face of the Pirates. Everybody loved Jack, the fans, his teammates. He played the game the right way. You knew you were going to see a great play when the fans came to watch him. This was his team. It hurts to see him go."
Sanchez was discussing his own departure shortly after 6 p.m. Pittsburgh time.
"I think seeing Jack go made this move a lot less emotional for me to come over here, because he was gone," Sanchez said.
Wilson and Sanchez had tried a double play of another kind two weeks ago, when they jointly approach the Pirates' management about getting contract extensions, each having expressed for months a strong desire to stay in Pittsburgh.
Wilson is making $7.25 million this year, Sanchez $6.1 million, and each can be a free agent this winter. Sanchez has a vesting option for 2010 he can trigger if he achieves 600 plate appearances.
On July 17, the Pirates approached them with extensions: They offered Wilson two years at $8 million, Sanchez two years at $10 million with a voiding of the vesting option. The offers were rejected the same day, Wilson doing so on the grounds that he insisted on Sanchez staying, too, even though he was mostly satisfied with the term and dollars.
When it became clear to Wilson and Sanchez that they could be traded in the past few days, their play on the field suffered, coincidence or not, and they spent most of their free time consumed by trade reports and speculation.
On Tuesday, with word that the Pirates were in trade talks regarding both players, each grew increasingly nervous and instructed his agent to call Huntington, who was at PNC Park.
Paul Cobbe, Sanchez's agent, did so that afternoon and made his first counter-offer to the Pirates' proposal: It was for three years with salaries of $6 million, $6.5 million and $7.5 million. The Pirates flatly rejected it.
Page Odle, Wilson's agent, left three messages with Huntington Tuesday evening, none of which was returned. Huntington explained that the messages came after a trade agreement "in principle" with Seattle already had been reached.
"I saw Page's name on my phone," Huntington said. "It was too late."
The Wilson trade took shape over several months, as Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik, a New Castle native who had interviewed for Huntington's job two years ago, had been trying to get Wilson since shortly after spring training.
The Boston Red Sox also expressed interest in Wilson, to the point of making an offer.
A tentative agreement on the Sanchez trade was reached Monday, but San Francisco balked after Sanchez's aching left knee kept him out of the game there that night. The Giants' doctors examined him Monday, including an MRI, then again yesterday afternoon before the team called the Pirates back to accept the original deal.
The Minnesota Twins and one other team were talking to the Pirates about Sanchez.
Huntington and Frank Coonelly, the Pirates' president, sounded braced for a public backlash related to these trades, one comparable to other trades they have made since the current management team took over in late 2007, notably those of Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan.
"We know how the fans felt about Jack and Freddy, and we know this will be unpopular," Huntington said. "Those two did so much on the field and in the community that they deserved to be loved by the fans the way they were."
"Jack was extremely popular with our fans, and many will be disappointed they don't have a chance to watch him play here, especially on defense," Coonelly said. "But the fact is, Jack was going to be a free agent in two months, and this trade gave us an opportunity to continue to build an organization that has the talent at all levels that can lead to a winning major league team again. I think fans will be excited by some of the prospects we were able to secure."
Of the 25-man roster Huntington inherited, only five players remain: catcher Ryan Doumit and pitchers Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Matt Capps and John Grabow.
And that is not all that has been slashed: The Pirates' payroll, which was $50.8 million on opening day, now stands at roughly $31 million. The highest-paid player, now that Wilson is gone, is Maholm at $3.5 million.
Coonelly declined comment on how that decline will affect payroll for 2010, but that decision probably will be influenced by the team's direct needs and the nature of the free-agent market more than a feeling of obligation to return to the $50 million level.
Coonelly and Huntington were emphatic that neither move yesterday was based on finances or pressure from owner Bob Nutting.
"We don't have to make any of these moves," Huntington said. "We're making them because those of us in baseball operations feel this is the right way to build a team. We're fortunate to have the support of Bob and Frank to make these difficult and unpopular decisions. But we're making them because we're trying to create a winner. We're not out to get to .500. We don't feel like we've broken up the '27 Yankees."
Meanwhile, Wilson and Sanchez move on, finally in separate directions.
Wilson will meet the Mariners today in Dallas, where they face the Texas Rangers. His familiar No. 2 will be replaced by No. 9 -- "my old number from high school," he explained -- and the uniform will be the first other than the Pirates that he was worn in the majors.
"I'm looking forward to it," Wilson said. "Jack sound excited to have me."
Zduriencik strongly hinted that the Mariners will try to extend Wilson's contract beyond this season, and one source indicated talks on that front could begin within two weeks.
"As we move forward over the next few years it is nice to know that we have solidified the shortstop position," Zduriencik said.
If not, the Pirates could become a player for Wilson in free agency.
"Without getting into tampering and mentioning any player, we'll explore all our options," Huntington said.
Sanchez will play for contending San Francisco tomorrow in the same stadium the Pirates just left.
Brian Sabean, the Giants' general manager, excitedly introduced Sanchez to the local media last night by saying, "Our long-awaited next move is consummated."
"It's good to get everything over with and be in a Giants uniform," Sanchez said. "Hopefully, I can do what I can to help this team in this playoff run. I'm not going to say I'm going to come in here and be a savior or hit .300 or .400 or that. I'll tell you this: There won't be any plays where I'm not giving 100 percent."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Post-Gazette staff writer Chuck Finder contributed to this report from San Francisco. First Published July 30, 2009 4:00 AM