The Jack Wilson/Ian Snell Trade is a Win

Every time someone mentions all of the trades made by the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last two years, the consensus is that the Xavier Nady trade is the only one which stands out as a sure win.  After today, I think it’s safe to say that we can add the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade to the win column.

It’s not like anything happened today that made the trade suddenly look good.  The trade has looked good for awhile now.  It started when the Pirates actually got something, anything, for Wilson and Snell.  At the time of the trade Wilson was pretty much a two month rental, with no sane team picking up his 2010 option.  Snell was at the AAA level, and was clearly on his way out of Pittsburgh, even asking to remain in AAA, rather than get the call back to the majors.  It was hard to imagine a team giving up anything for an aging, defensive only shortstop, and a head case pitcher who had struggled at the major league level the past two seasons.

The Pirates ended up getting Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Nathan Adcock, Aaron Pribanic, and Brett Lorin in return.  They had to send some money to Seattle to get that return, $3,308,702 to be exact, but the move was well worth it, just to get anything of value from Wilson, who would have been a free agent following the 2009 season, and Snell, who was owed $4.25 M in 2010.

So far in 2010, Wilson and Snell have been huge disappointments.  Seattle signed Wilson to a two year, $10 M extension, replacing his option year and keeping him for an extra season.  That move looks to be a mistake, as Wilson has missed a lot of time this year, and hasn’t been productive in the time he’s played.  Wilson currently has a .253/.275/.347 line in 75 at-bats this season, with just 26 games played.  Meanwhile, his replacement, Ronny Cedeno, is hitting for a .240/.282/.340 line in 200 at-bats, playing in 57 games.

Wilson has been moved to the bench in Seattle, in favor of Josh Wilson.  Cedeno’s offensive numbers are pretty much the same as Wilson’s, with each player sporting a .622 OPS.  The major difference comes on defense.  Cedeno currently leads the majors with a 16.2 UZR/150 this season.  Meanwhile, Wilson is having a down season, with a -10.6 UZR/150, which may be due to a hamstring injury.  Basically, the Pirates got a younger version of Jack Wilson, and that’s not considering the other players in the deal.

For Seattle, the only other player is Ian Snell.  Snell has a $4.25 M contract this season, to go with his 6.41 ERA in 46.1 innings.  Oh yeah, Snell was also just designated for assignment by Seattle this afternoon.  So it’s safe to say that Seattle isn’t looking good in this deal.

As for the Pirates, in addition to Cedeno, they received Clement, Adcock, Lorin, and Pribanic.  The prize so far has been Nathan Adcock.  So far this season, Adcock has a 2.85 ERA in 66.1 innings in high-A, with a 9.2 K/9 and a 2.4 BB/9 ratio.  Aaron Pribanic hasn’t seen the same success, with a 5.65 ERA in 65.1 innings in high-A, along with a 5.2 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9, although his .347 BABIP is very unlucky.  Brett Lorin has been out the whole season after a promising 2009 season in low-A.  Jeff Clement has been a disappointment at the major league level, and is back down in Indianapolis.

I decided to write about this because of the news that Snell had been designated for assignment.  I did notice that Ron Cook talked about this deal, taking the opposite stance as me.  I didn’t read the article, as I respect my brain cells, although in preparation for this, I did scan the relevant parts.  Cook’s argument against the trade is a typical argument, very common, and completely wrong.

The first part is to focus on Clement.  I never had high hopes for Clement.  I said all off-season that I wasn’t worried about him moving to first base.  He showed that he wasn’t a huge liability there.  My concern was his offense, which turned out to be the major issue.  I’ll admit that Clement was the main piece in the return for the Pirates, but that doesn’t mean he was the only piece.  As I mentioned above, Ronny Cedeno has been a Jack Wilson clone, only much younger.  Nathan Adcock looks like a top ten prospect with the numbers he’s putting up this year.  You can’t ignore those performances just because the top return piece struggled.

The second part is to focus on the money that the Pirates sent in the deal.  The big misconception here is that the Pirates paid just over $3.3 M to get Clement.  That assumes that they had a choice: Wilson and Snell for Cedeno, Adcock, Lorin, and Pribanic, or throw in $3.3 M to also get Clement in that deal.  It seems like people are combining two things to make the false assumption that the Pirates paid that money for Clement.  First, the Pirates did pay for Wilson and Snell to get a good return.  Second, the Pirates did consider Clement as the top return piece.  But that doesn’t mean the Pirates paid that money for Clement alone.

In fact, in the grand scheme of things, the Pirates saved money in this deal.  Yes, they paid $3.3 M, but that was most likely because Wilson and Snell were un-tradable, as each player was overpaid for their production, or lack of production, in the majors.  Below is a chart showing what the Pirates saved, and what they spent in this deal, considering the 2009 salaries after the trade, the 2010 salaries (a $600 K buyout for Wilson), and the payment to Seattle:

Overall, the Pirates saved $3,387,937 on this trade.  This actually seems like a ridiculous article to write. The Pirates could have gone two directions (assuming there was no other trade available, and I don’t think that’s a big assumption):


The Pirates keep Wilson and Snell, likely buy out Wilson’s 2010 option for $600 K, and potentially go without a shortstop to start the 2010 season (most likely they’d have Bobby Crosby brought in).  They’d also have Snell, and would be spending an additional $3.4 M in payroll.


The Pirates make the trade, replace Wilson with an identical, yet younger, Ronny Cedeno, add a breakout pitching prospect in Adcock, add two more promising pitching prospects in Pribanic and Lorin, and still manage to save $3.4 M.

The decision seems like a no brainer if you ask me.  The Pirates aren’t missing Jack Wilson with Ronny Cedeno.  Ian Snell continues to struggle at the major league level, and while high-A stats from Adcock don’t help the Pirates, I would much rather have a pitcher with the potential Adcock is showing, rather than have Snell and his $4.25 M salary.  On top of all of that, they saved almost $3.4 M, which might come in handy when the Pirates are looking to sign both Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in August.

I don’t see how anyone could call that a bad trade for the Pirates.

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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, 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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