Winter Meetings: Pirates, Tigers to discuss Wilson
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LAS VEGAS -- Jack Wilson plans to attend Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings, which begin this morning at the Bellagio hotel, and chances are excellent his ears will be burning the entire time he is there.
With good cause.
A source yesterday confirmed that the Pirates' management and their Detroit counterparts have arranged a face-to-face discussion for some point early in these four-day meetings, and a trade that would send Wilson to the Tigers will be the primary topic. There was no indication that any deal is at hand and the discussion might be nothing more than a chance to inch closer.
If a deal were at hand, Detroit surely would not have had free-agent shortstop Adam Everett -- who also is scheduled to be at the Bellagio -- participate in a workout this past week, according to another source. The Pirates are eyeing two position prospects, outfielder Matt Joyce and corner infielder Jeff Larish, in addition to several pitchers, but the Tigers might not be satisfied with the Pirates' asking price.
The Los Angeles Dodgers remain very much in the mix, as well, having rekindled interest in Wilson over the past week to the extent that there were detailed discussions between the Pirates and Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti about how the Dodgers would prefer that Wilson restructure the rest of his contract, as Wilson has indicated he is willing to do.
The same two Los Angeles prospects who have been on the table for about a month, shortstop Chin-lung Hu and outfielder Delwyn Young, remain in play, but the Pirates want more.
The Tigers and Dodgers each are leery of Wilson's contract, which has a $7.25 million salary next year with an $8.4 million club option for 2010 and $600,000 buyout. Wilson probably would restructure his contract for Detroit, too.
As for Wilson's plans ...
"I just want to check out the scene up there," he said from his home in southern California. "I've never been to a Winter Meetings and always kind of wondered what that would be like."
He has no formal agenda there, though he surely will intersect with acquaintances from the Pirates.
The busiest man in the Pirates' contingent, as could be expected, will be general manager Neal Huntington, who will have the usual assortment of gatherings with baseball people within the organization -- the entire brass is due to attend, except for Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo, heading to Taiwan on assignment -- as well as executives from other teams and agents.
Huntington has two divergent aims at these meetings:
1. Get the best value possible in prospects for any of the Pirates' veteran commodities, notably Wilson, reliever John Grabow and catcher Ronny Paulino. If teams call about second baseman Freddy Sanchez or first baseman Adam LaRoche -- and some have -- Huntington will not hang up. In Sanchez's case, that will be a departure from the previous Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., where the Pirates told potential suitors they had no wish to trade him.
2. Address the needs of the 2009 Pirates -- and those are many and great -- by acquiring a starting pitcher good enough to move right into the rotation, and a right-handed power bat.
Huntington has expressed some skepticism about getting that pitcher through free agency, so making a trade or simply adding depth through fringe players might be the most likely routes.
The power bat, on the other hand, might be had through free agency. One possibility is first baseman Kevin Millar, who had a down year with the Baltimore Orioles with a .234 average, but still had 20 home runs and 72 RBIs in 531 at-bats. He told the Baltimore Sun last week that his priority is finding a place that will let him start, and he acknowledged having trouble finding that.
"Whether it's a right-handed bat for the outfield or another position that allows John Russell some flexibility, the important thing is that we're looking for talent," Huntington said yesterday. "And we've got to look at talent that will make as much of an impact for us as possible. One-year fits are not ideal."
Even if they are not, some decent prices might be found, if only because the national economic crisis already is having a palpable effect on baseball, from few signings to fewer offers to the most glaring example of the Arizona Diamondbacks declining to offer slugger Adam Dunn arbitration and allowing him to become a free agent last week.
"We're still strong financially because of the trades from last summer and some of the things that were done before we got here," he said. "We might not have as much money as we thought we'd have in, say, August or September, but we can look for good value on players. Other teams are looking to cut payroll, and we're not going to do that."
The Pirates' payroll limit for 2009 remains $54 million. If all of that is spent, it would be a slight increase over last season.
Another matter that must be addressed this week is the fate of reliever Denny Bautista.
The Pirates have eight players eligible for arbitration this offseason -- center fielder Nate McLouth, catcher Ryan Doumit, first baseman Adam LaRoche and pitchers Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, John Grabow, Tyler Yates and Bautista -- and midnight Friday is the deadline to tender them offers. Once that happens, the team retains the player and a salary is determined either amicably or by an arbitrator.
Bautista, 28, posted a 5.22 ERA in 51 appearances, with nearly as many walks (42) as strikeouts (44). He made $395,000 last season, and the boost of arbitration probably would push him into the range of $750,000 for 2009.
The Pirates have not decided whether to keep him and plan to weigh factors such as performance, price and the value of his roster spot.
NOTES -- No contract offers are known to have been made to McLouth or Doumit, the two players upper management began to discuss as possibilities for long-term extensions last summer. The same is true of Maholm. ... The Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame will announce its selections at 1 p.m. today, and former Pirates outfielder/first baseman Al Oliver is on the 10-man ballot with Joe Torre, Maury Wills, Ron Santo, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Dick Allen, Vada Pinson and Luis Tiant.
First Published December 8, 2008 12:00 am