Shortstop of the future: Jack Wilson?

For the last two years we’ve been hearing Jack Wilson mentioned in trade rumors. There were the rumors in 2007 of the Tigers being interested in Wilson, and offering Jair Jurrjens. Then there were the rumors in 2008 that the Dodgers were interested around the trade deadline. Then we heard talk all winter about how the Dodgers and Tigers were interested, only to find that these teams weren’t as interested as we might have believed.

So who will Jack Wilson be playing for over the next few years? Maybe the Pirates.

According to DK at the PPG, the Pirates and Jack Wilson have had talks on a contract extension. It doesn’t sound as serious as the talks with Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, and Nate McLouth earlier this off-season, but it is certainly a big turn of events. Considering the state of the position in the organization, it may not be a bad move.

The Pirates are extremely thin at the shortstop position, which is probably a direct result of being thin almost everywhere in the minor league system. The Pirates have Luis Cruz and Brian Bixler close to the majors. Cruz is more of a backup, defensive only type player. Bixler has had some success at AAA, with a .280 line last year in 321 at bats. However, Bixler has shown poor defense in the majors, while struggling to hit major league pitching.

Looking at the Pirates top prospects, guys like Jarek Cunningham, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud and Brian Friday are also in the system, but no immediate answers. Friday hit .287 in half a season at Lynchburg. Cunningham, Mercer, and d’Arnaud were all taken in the draft last year, and thus are all a few years away. The wait is longer for the most promising of the group, Cunningham, who will miss the 2009 season with a knee injury.

So that raises a question: what would happen if the Pirates did trade Wilson? They would pretty much be placing their hopes on Brian Bixler, at least until guys like Cunningham, Mercer, or d’Arnaud are ready (and even then there’s no guarantee that one of them will be the answer). So going with Wilson may not be such a bad idea, especially when teams don’t seem interested in trading for him.

The problem is that Wilson is currently expensive for the Pirates. Wilson is the highest paid player on the Pirates’ 40-man roster this season at $7.25 M, and has an $8.4 M option next year. That option comes with a $0.6 M buyout, which means the Pirates aren’t locked in to paying Wilson that amount. So what is Wilson worth?

In the last three years Wilson has hit for a .281/.323/.390 line, with minimal power. This off-season saw Rafael Furcal get $10 M a year for three years, and Edgar Renteria get just over $9 M a year for two years. However, both of those hitters are known more for their offense. Renteria has a .298/.354/.429 line the last three years, while Furcal has a .293/.360/.420 line over that stretch.

Wilson’s main value isn’t offense though. It is his defense. Using the Ultimate Zone Rating rankings at FanGraphs, we find that Wilson ranked fourth last year amongst shortstops with a minimum of 650 innings. The only players who ranked higher were Furcal, Orlando Cabrera, and Mike Aviles.

Cabrera is probably the player who resembles Wilson the most. In the last three years Cabrera has hit for a .288/.337/.390 line, similar to Wilson. Like Wilson, Cabrera has a defensive side of the game as a strength. This past year Cabrera signed a one year deal worth $4 M with Oakland.

Looking at Wilson, the Pirates probably won’t pick up his $8.4 M option next season. Wilson is also 31 this year, so it’s reasonable to think that he could be the Pirates’ shortstop for the next few years. Using Cabrera’s 2009 contract as a model, a 3 year, $15 M extension for Wilson would be reasonable. $4 M in 2010, $5 M in 2011, and $6 M in 2012. The Pirates would be saving $4.4 M in 2010 by replacing Wilson’s option with his extension, and when factoring in that savings, would be getting Wilson for an additional $6.6 M over the next two years.

So in a time where the Pirates are building towards the future, we may be able to take comfort in the fact that our shortstop of the future is already in a Pirates uniform.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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