What's Next For Jack Wilson?

In an interesting turn of events, Jack Wilson has been benched the past 4 games in favor of the once-maligned Jose Castillo. Ironically, it was Wilson that called out Castillo in spring training, questioning his focus:

“I want whoever’s going to make this a winning team,” Wilson said. “Right now, Freddy is my second baseman, in my mind. He’s the guy I can trust to go 100 percent and get the job done. Castillo’s got to show me something. You’re going to see it in spring training. If he’s slimmed down and ready to work, he’s going to have a good year. But, if it’s the other way around, we’re going to have some problems.”

In just a few short months, Wilson and Castillo’s roles have been reversed. Defensive lapses against the Yankees, along with his usual impotent hitting, have cost Wilson his job, at least for the time being.
Considering the team’s displeasure with Wilson, coupled with his increased salary in upcoming seasons ($6.5 million in ’08, $7.25 million in ’09, $8.4 million club option in ’10), there is a decent possibility that Wilson will find himself in another team’s uniform before the July 31st trading deadline.
Wilson’s contract is controlled for at least 2 more seasons, so a team trading for the Bucs shortstop would be making a fairly long-term commitment. The question becomes, is Wilson worth his salary of about $7 million in each of the next 2 seasons? And who would want him?
At the plate, Wilson has been nothing short of a cipher in all but one year of his career (2004). Wilson is a career .264/.306/.367 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter, and is currently “hitting” .251/.305/.352 in 2007. The average national league shortstop is hitting .271/.329/.408, so Jack is clearly a below average hitter relative to his position.
Much of Wilson’s value is tied up in his glove. By nearly any defensive metric one can find, Wilson is rated among the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Baseball Prospectus’ fielding system has Wilson at a career RATE (measures the number of runs a fielder is above or below average per 100 games) of 108 (100 is average; anything above 100 is above average, anything below is below average). ESPN’s Zone Rating system(% of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive “zone”) rated Wilson 9th in 2006, 1st in 2005, and 7th in 2004. It is worth noting that the same system rates Wilson 22nd among shortstops in 2007; whether this is a significant trend or just a few months of slightly below-average production remains to be seen. However, there is a definite consensus between the data and our eyes: Wilson is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.
Another important factor for prospective trade partners to consider is who might be available on the free agent market after the season. Here are the shortstops of note that may become free agents after the 2007 season:
David Eckstein, STL
Cesar Izturis, CHC ($5.45 M club option)
Omar Vizquel, SF
Juan Uribe, CWS ($5 M club option)
Eckstein, a contact hitter with a plus defensive rep, would likely command a salary in the $6-7M range, perhaps more given his “scrappy winner” tag.
Vizquel remains an above-average defensive shortstop, though his offensive performance in ’07 (.229/.284/.289) would have to give teams some pause. Vizquel would likely command between $5-6 M.
Uribe is a poor offensive player. He has a career .296 OBP, though he’ll occasionally pull a home run over the fence with his all-or-nothing approach. Uribe is considered an above-average shortstop. Given his relative youth (Uribe will 29 by opening day 2008) and occasional home run power, Uribe will likely command slightly more than Wilson, if the White fail to pick up his option.
Izturis is similar to Wilson, punchless hitter with a reputation for smooth glovework. The Cubs hold a $5.45M option on Izturis, and seem unlikely to exercise it, given the performances of Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot, coupled with the presence of a nearly-ready, solid second base prospect in Eric Patterson.
So, teams searching for a long-term shortstop are limited in their options. Eckstein and Uribe, given the inflation within the free agent market, will likely command more than $7M per season. Vizquel in his 40’s, is definitely not a long-term option. Izturis is the only guy on that list that may command a lower salary than Wilson, but he is at the mercy of the Cubs.
Given the paucity of options and baseball’s inflated salary structure, Wilson’s contract is reasonable, and there will likely be some market for him.
So, who might Wilson be landing with? Here are some of the possible trade partners:
Disclaimer: According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Wilson has a limited no-trade clause between 2007-2009, allowing Wilson to block trades to 6 teams.
Washington Nationals: The Nationals don’t have a legitimate player at the position, Cristian Guzman’s hot streak be damned. Given that the Nationals are in rebuilding mode, it wouldn’t appear very likely that they would add a $7M a year player. Perhaps the Nats want some degree of name recognition on their roster while moving into their new stadium.
Houston Astros: Yes, they already have their own no-hit, all-field shortstop in Adam Everett, but Everett may be done for the season after an ugly collision with Left Fielder/MAC Truck Carlos Lee. Everett suffered a fractured right fibula. Considering Craig Biggio has as much range as a lampost at second base, perhaps the Astros won’t feel comfortable with Mark Loretta’s below-average range at short.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays are currently playing the likes of Royce Clayton and John McDonald at the position. Given the groundball tendencies of starters Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, and Dustin McGowan, Toronto could use a rangy shortstop to convert all of those grounders into outs.

Author: Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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