Wilson/Sanchez talks unlikely until after deadline
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The Pirates have put on hold any attempt to sign shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez to contract extensions and, instead, are focused on entertaining trade offers for those players.
And it does not sound, from the way team president Frank Coonelly described it yesterday, as if there will be any new extension talks until after Major League Baseball's trading deadline Friday.
"Positions can always change, and the passing of the deadline on Friday certainly could change a side's position, but the agents for both Jack and Freddy were very clear with us that both the years and the dollars in our offers were not nearly sufficient," Coonelly said.
Wilson and Sanchez each was offered a two-year extension two weeks ago, Wilson's for $8 million, Sanchez's for $10 million plus a voiding of his $8.1 million vesting option for 2010. Each was rejected within 48 hours, though Wilson's rejection was less about the terms and much more about insisting that Sanchez signs, too.
Those offers, sent to the agents -- Page Odle for Wilson, Paul Cobbe for Sanchez -- came with the term "best bolt" to describe the Pirates' stance on their flexibility. The agents and players interpreted that to mean no flexibility, but Coonelly said the team reached out to ensure that was not the case.
"Both declined to counter even after we clarified that 'best bolt' meant little room to move and not that we have no flexibility whatsoever," Coonelly said. "The agents were very clear with us, and the players have obviously not instructed their agents to make a counterproposal in an effort to test our flexibility. I am not sure if the passing of the deadline will change this. If the deadline passes, we will, of course, remain open to dialogue."
To be sure, those talks are thoroughly stalled: There has been no contact of any kind between the team and the players or their agents in the eight days since Pirates general manager Neal Huntington publicly stated he would welcome a second round.
Huntington and the agents all declined to comment on the matter yesterday, as has been their stance the past few days.
For all the attention the Friday deadline gets, teams can trade players all through August so long as they clear waivers. It is no certainty that Wilson and/or Sanchez would clear waivers, but their respective salaries -- $7.25 million for Wilson, $6.1 million for Sanchez plus a possible $8.1 million through a vesting option next year -- might make that possible.
If that is the case, and the Pirates seem to think it is, that would buy more time either to make a trade or renew extension talks.
The Pirates are telling teams -- just as they have stated in public -- that they have no urgency to move either player and that they are listening more than shopping. The Boston Red Sox are looking at Wilson, and the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants are looking at Sanchez. Others could be involved, too, though the pool is not thought to be large for either player.
If Sanchez, in particular, is not retained, it almost surely will be because of that vesting option, one that the Pirates -- as they have said -- would rather not pay. The option can be triggered by Sanchez making 600 plate appearances this year, or it can be exercised by the Pirates as a club option.
In an interview over the weekend with the Post-Gazette, Pirates owner Bob Nutting confirmed and supported Huntington's stance that the Pirates would not choose to exercise the option but added, "if the option vests, we are in a position to support Freddy's salary and still add talent. In other words, even with a vested option, we would move Freddy only if there was a good baseball trade to be made."
That would appear to heighten the pressure on Huntington to execute "a good baseball trade" in a challenging environment where teams are reluctant to add salary and even more reluctant to part with good prospects, much less those who might end up being comparable to Sanchez, a three-time All-Star and National League batting champion.
One industry source said last night that the Pirates might be open to paying part of Sanchez's vesting option if that helps bring an appropriate return in prospects. If it plays out that way, that might provide the Pirates' only vehicle for making such a trade appear to the public -- one that is deeply skeptical of ownership's commitment to spend -- as anything other than a salary dump.
As Nutting acknowledged, the Pirates can afford Sanchez, as well as Wilson, in 2010, and there are several reasons for that:
• If Wilson and Sanchez sign extensions close to their initial offers, Wilson would cost $3 million less than this year, Sanchez about the same.
• The team already has saved nearly $15 million in current and future costs on the three trades it has made this year: That includes $1 million of Nate McLouth's current salary, plus the $11 million he was due the next two years, as well as the $2.95 million remainder of Adam LaRoche's salary this year. The Nyjer Morgan/Sean Burnett trade was a financial wash.
• If Wilson and Sanchez leave and not replaced by veterans, all of the Pirates' projected everyday players for 2010 except catcher Ryan Doumit will be making the majors' minimum wage of roughly $400,000.
• No significant raises are due any players through arbitration, save for All-Star pitcher Zach Duke. The player due the biggest raise, reliever John Grabow, can become a free agent, and the Pirates are shopping him for a trade without having offered an extension.
First Published July 28, 2009 12:00 am