Pirates offer extensions to Wilson, Sanchez
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The Pirates have approached shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez about multiyear contract extensions, putting on hold, for now, the possibility that either will be traded by Major League Baseball's July 31 deadline.
But the clock is ticking.
If the parties are to agree on extensions, they will need to do so far enough in advance of the deadline so that, if the Pirates decide no agreement is possible, they still can pursue a trade for one or both. That likely means something must get done within the next week to 10 days.
And there is a catch, one unusual in professional sports: If one player does not sign, the other probably will not, either. Wilson and Sanchez are best friends to the point of being virtually inseparable, on and off the infield dirt.
"I'm very excited to possibly continue my career in Pittsburgh, to finish what I've started, and Freddy is going to be a vital piece of any decision I make," Wilson said last night after the team's post-break workout at PNC Park. "Without Freddy, I think, it would be tough to win without a player like that."
"I want to finish my career turning double plays with Jack in a Pirates uniform," Sanchez said. "If it works out, it would be unbelievable. This is what we've been talking about for a long time."
Wilson, 31, the Pirates' most tenured player, is batting .270 with four home runs, 18 doubles and 31 RBIs and, surely most significant in this scenario given the system's near-total dearth of shortstop depth, is playing perhaps the best defense of his career.
He is in the final guaranteed year of a contract that pays $7.4 million, most on the team. He has a 2010 club option worth $8.4 million, with a $500,000 buyout.
Sanchez, 31, fresh off his third All-Star selection, is batting .316 with six home runs, 27 doubles and 34 RBIs, and his defense, too, has been at its career peak.
He is making $6.25 million and can guarantee his 2010 vesting option worth $8 million by achieving 600 plate appearances this season.
The Pirates have turned 100 double plays, tied for most in the majors with the Texas Rangers, and this despite having fewer baserunners to erase than in recent years due to improved pitching.
Defense, apparently, was paramount in management's thinking with this contract approach.
General manager Neal Huntington declined last night to comment on any player's contract status, but he did acknowledge how difficult it would be to replace Wilson and/or Sanchez.
"I think it would be less than an ideal situation," Huntington said. "Jack, obviously, is playing great defense. Freddy is an All-Star on both sides of the ball. It would be tough to replace both, no question. But, as an organization, we can't be held hostage to fear of replacing. We like our ability to be creative. We feel like we could go out and find adequate replacements."
"Obviously, the easiest thing would be to keep them here. If we can't do that and we get the right trade, it's something we have to do."
Wilson and Sanchez have made known, all spring and summer, their desire to stay and play together. But it was management that initiated this approach, and it did so jointly, aware of the teammates' shared wish.
That does not mean it will be simple, though. In fact, a fair amount of skepticism was palpable on all sides last night.
In addition to the time constraint, hashing out the lengths and dollars of independent contracts, from early indications, will not be simple. That is especially true of the lengths: Wilson could seek three years, while the Pirates could be more interested in two plus an option. Sanchez could seek three or four years.
As for money, Wilson is amenable to lowering his salary from its current level, and Sanchez is flexible about restructuring that 2010 option.
Another possible factor is the no-trade clause. The Pirates' current management never has given one out, but this circumstance -- two players choosing to stay on one team, possibly for less money -- could make it a variable.
If Wilson and Sanchez remain and first baseman Adam LaRoche does not return next year, the middle infielders almost surely will be the team's highest-paid everyday players in 2010 by a wide margin. All the rest, except catcher Ryan Doumit at $3.55 million, will make at or close to the major league minimum $400,000 because of their experience levels.
Before this development, the Pirates had listened to trade offers for Wilson and Sanchez, but none to the point of anything being close.