Pirates expecting Wilson to stay put
Jack Wilson -- Unlikely that he is going anywhere before the trade deadline
Xavier Nady -- The power-hitting corner outfielder is in demand
Damaso Marte -- Left-handed reliever drawing plenty of interest
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The Pirates expect to keep shortstop Jack Wilson beyond Major League Baseball's July 31 trading deadline, despite overtures from several teams in the past week.
And he might stay a lot longer than that.
The front office's thinking, as outlined by internal sources yesterday, is that Wilson is valuable to the Pirates not only because of his fine performance in the past year-plus but also because his departure would leave a gaping hole, as was painfully evident when he missed two months to injury this season. Top shortstop prospect Brian Bixler has recovered nicely with Class AAA Indianapolis after a rough debut in Pittsburgh this spring, but he is not of Wilson's pedigree. And no one else is on the horizon.
Management also values that it can retain Wilson for two more seasons, with a guaranteed $7.25 million next season and a club option of $8.4 million for 2010. That is well within market range for a shortstop of Wilson's experience, and management has repeatedly stated that it is under no financial constraints to move any current contract.
Put that together, and the general view is this: Why give up Wilson when a comparable replacement must be acquired by next spring, at the latest?
That does not mean, one source cautioned, that Wilson is untouchable -- there are no players in that category on the Pirates' roster, apparently -- or that the situation could not change. But the offers made to this point do not indicate that one will be forthcoming to change the Pirates' minds.
General manager Neal Huntington said Sunday that the Pirates are "listening more aggressively" to trade offers without having abandoned the 2008 season, and team president Frank Coonelly yesterday afternoon expressed a similar sentiment.
"While the recent 2-4 road trip was certainly disappointing, the organization has not shifted its focus from attempting to put this club in the best position to win every night that it takes the field," Coonelly said. "We have played well at home and get two-fifths of our starting rotation back from the disabled list."
That would be Phil Dumatrait last night, Ian Snell tonight.
"It is our expectation that we will play well leading into the All-Star break. We recognize, however, that the non-waiver trade deadline is less than a month away and that, as the C.C. Sabathia trade reflects, contending clubs are becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of talent that may help put them in the postseason."
The Milwaukee Brewers yesterday acquired Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians for four prospects.
"We have said all along that we need to aggressively add talent to our system, though the draft, internationally, and through the right baseball trades," Coonelly continued. "We except trade talks to intensify, and we will continue to evaluate carefully every potential trade that would add the depth to our system that is needed to contend year in and year out. July 31 is one of the leverage points, but there are others."
And how much might Coonelly anticipate the day when the Pirates make a Sabathia-type trade?
"I very much look forward to the day when we have the depth of quality prospects in our minor league system that will put us in the position to acquire for the pennant race a premier talent such as C.C. Sabathia."
Los Angeles initiated the inquiry about Wilson last week and was the first team to do so this year. Those talks, which never involved any player on the Dodgers' major league roster, never got very far and seemed dormant, if not dead, late yesterday afternoon.
One prospect who was discussed, according to a Los Angeles source, was 23-year-old Class AA starter James McDonald, who has good control but no better than decent stuff. Another was 24-year-old Class AAA shortstop Chin-lung Hu, who has batted .176 in the majors and currently is out because of recurring vision problems. There are other, better prospects in the Los Angeles system, but it was not clear if they were available.
Other teams have called the Pirates to ask about Wilson since the news of the Dodgers' inquiry leaked out of California. It was not clear which teams, but the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays have made known they are looking for a shortstop.
There, too, though, it is unlikely that Wilson will go. The market as a whole is not considered fertile for moving a shortstop, and several others -- Omar Vizquel, Felipe Lopez and Juan Uribe -- probably can be had for less. Moreover, in Toronto's case, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi last year vocally stated that he had "absolutely no interest in Jack Wilson."
Wilson yesterday reiterated his wish to stay in Pittsburgh, where he and his family have become as connected to the community as he has been with his only major league employer. Last month, he played his 1,000th game as a Pirates shortstop.
"This is where I want to be," Wilson said.
He added that he has no plan to allow the matter to distract him, as it visibly did last July when the Pirates and Detroit Tigers discussed a Wilson trade that fell apart on deadline day.
"It's just part of the game. You have a job to do."
The most likely Pirates to get traded remain the usual two: Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
The market for Nady is thick, as might be expected with his ranking among the National League leaders in multiple categories. The Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves are known to be seeking a power-hitting corner outfielder, and the list could grow in the coming weeks. The New York Mets might be on there, too, but they continue to be seen as a poor match because of a dearth of prospects.
The list could be just as long for Marte, as the Rays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies are seeking left-handed relief. The market certainly has picked up from where it was a month ago when the Pirates were disappointed by the offers.
Teams have asked about John Grabow, too, but Marte is the primary focus.
As for Jason Bay, the Pirates' most valuable potential trading piece, there have been inquiries about him, of course. But management is maintaining the stance it adopted with a slight shift a month ago, and that is that Bay could be part of their future even after his current contract expires following next season. Partly because of this, the asking price for Bay will be greater than for Nady.
Bottom line on Bay: He, like Wilson, is not being shopped.
Oh, and he, too, would welcome the opportunity to stay.
"I've said all along that I want to win here, and that hasn't changed," Bay said.
So would Nady, for that matter. Nady is represented by Scott Boras, an agent who almost invariably drives his clients into free agency at the first chance, and that will come for Nady following next season. But Nady appears to have become plenty attached to the team and city and might listen if management were to approach him.
One unfortunate area for the Pirates this trading season: Several teams are seeking a center fielder or catcher, and the two they mostly likely would offer -- Chris Duffy and Ronny Paulino -- are recovering from injuries in the minors. Because of that, there has been no interest.
First Published July 8, 2008 12:00 am