Monday, July 20, 2009


ABOVE: The Pirates apparently feel that Ian Snell would look good in any uniform other than their's. Therein may lie a key in solving their current shortstop dilemma.

Well the Pirates had their lowball "offers" to Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez predictably rejected over the weekend and they were then promptly removed from the table. Now, as the conventional line of thinking goes, Pirate fans can't say that they weren't even offered a contract. While this is more than a little disingenuous, GM Neal Huntington made a valid point over the weekend saying that the free agent marketplace is going to be very weak this off season with attendance waning and because of the economic woes that the country is currently enduring. Huntington went on to predict that the ultimate contracts that the two players would sign would be very close to what he offered them this summer.

While that remains to be seen and yes, technically, it was a contract offer, in both cases; The players would have been making considerably less than their current contracts and when was the last time you heard of any professional player jumping for that?. In the case of both, they have always brought an admirable attitude to the field, had stellar defensive abilities (the pair are currently leading the majors in double plays) and in the case of Sanchez, he even won a very rare batting title for the Bucs two years ago. When either player has been missing due to injury, their absence has been notable, especially in the case of Wilson's long absence last year. So what's not to like for the Pirates?

In the case of Wilson, he had one strong year at the plate in 2004 when he hit .308 (steroid influenced, who knows?) but has a career average of just .269. This year he is currently at .267. The Pirates paid top dollar for him on this current contract and from a plate production standpoint, he mostly hasn't delivered. While Sanchez earns less than Wilson, he has been more prone to injury throughout his career, plus he has this wacky plate appearance clause that the Pirates somehow agreed to that could cost them a ton of money next year if he hits 600 plate appearances this season. Moving Sanchez has become a top necessity and perhaps that is why Sanchez' representatives wanted that "poison pill" language in the contract in the first place.

While I would not be adverse to the team finding a way to retaining the pair...they are both good guys and solid teammates... I really like the approach that Neal Huntington has taken in these negotiations. He likes to say that the next contract is not about what the player has done, but what he believes they are capable of doing during that new contract. This is savvy point that is often lost on many fans and players alike. It's not even a, "What have you done for me lately?" attitude. It's more of a "What can you do for me tomorrow?" belief.

In the case of both Wilson and Sanchez, you have to believe that both players are beyond their prime seasons at 32. While they can still be quality major leaguers, this general manager knows that there are other, less-expensive options that he can pursue to fill these spots. In the case of Sanchez, his eventual replacement, Delwyn Young, is already on the roster. Young may not be as slick of a fielder as Sanchez, but he is more than capable and looks to be more durably-built. Plus, he has much more power than Sanchez could ever dream of (Sanchez has hit only 37 homers in 8 seasons) and also looks to have the capability to hit for average too. He could turn out to be a fine replacement.

Indeed, extrapolating Young's stats over just 137 at bats, he would figure to accumulate 13 homers and 83 rbi's over the course of a season at his present pace while batting .307. Sanchez has averaged just four home runs during his eight seasons. He is a career .302 hitter and is currently batting .313 this season.

The shortstop position will be much more difficult. While I am not going to pretend to know of a solution to this problem, I feel that the key to solving it may very well be found in Indianapolis. No, I'm not advocating a drive to promote Brian Bixler who has been a disappointment both times he's been on the club. Rather, I think that Ian Snell could be a major factor in this situation.

While Snell has been pitching well in Indy, the Pirates and Snell have both indicated that they would like to see a change of venue for Snell not involving Pittsburgh. If Snell continues to do well at triple-A, his trade value will only continue to be enhanced. If the Pirates were willing to absorb some of Snell's contract, they may be able to pry a top level shortstop prospect from a trading partner. As everyone knows, pitching is the key to winning baseball, but if you don't have a good shortstop, your chances are severely limited too. Look at teams that have stellar shortstops at the major league level who may be blocking another top prospect. Whoever this player is, it would be a surprise to find that their team might not be interested in a major league experienced pitcher, even if it is one who has struggled as Snell has the last couple seasons.

Of course it goes without saying that Adam Laroche's days in Pittsburgh are also greatly numbered. Laroche is currently mired in another of his vintage, mind-numbing slumps that he has become infamous for. His act has also worn thin on Pirates fans as well as the team itself.

Look for the Buccos to deal both Wilson and Sanchez as two more parts of the now thankfully-departed Littlefield regime. While both players have been a credit to the Pirates uniform they now wear, in this writer's opinion, it once again looks as though Neal Huntington is pushing the right buttons in this situation.

BUCCO BLATHER ...Lastings Milledge, obtained as part of the Nyjer Morgan deal, is making very quick progress in Indianapolis. Huntington told Milledge that he would be the determining factor in how soon he was called up to the big club. Milledge apparently was listening, because he has been tearing it up at Indianapolis. So while the Pirates infield for next year remains very cloudy with only third baseman Andy Laroche a certainty to be back, the Pirates outfield is shaping up as being very interesting indeed with more than likely Milledge in left, McCutchen in center and Garrett Jones in right. These three players could give the Pirates their most productive outfield combination in years and if all three players continued at their present pace of development, they could ultimately brcome one of the best outfields in baseball.

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