Please excuse the rambling and lack of organization in this post. With only a 30-minute lunch break, I just started typing away. Now that I have my excuses out of the way, on with the show.
In a surprising twist, the Pirates are negotiating contract extensions with Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. My first thought upon hearing this news was that the trade market for these two players must be pretty limited. Most of us have figured that out regarding Wilson, as his name has been coming up in rumors for years with no trade ever being culminated. Teams simply are not willing to relinquish quality talent for him, probably because most of his value is tied to his defense. I figured Freddy would have some value around the league, though. He is one of the more valuable second basemen in baseball, and he could undoubtedly upgrade a contending team for this year and next. His remaining contract is also a bargain for his production, assuming he can stay healthy. I am surprised that the Pirates have been unable to find another organization willing to give up some young talent for Freddy.
Regarding the wisdom of extending two middle infielders in their thirties during a rebuilding process, I sit squarely on the fence. Having Wilson and Sanchez on the team for the next two or three years is a good thing. They are both above league average for their position and, while they are likely to decline and continue to battle injuries with age, it is unlikely that someone currently with the organization will be able to displace them as starters before 2012. It is possible that Brian Friday or Jim Negrych could be ready for 2011. It is possible that Shelby Ford‘s struggles this year are due to injury and he could be a factor in a year or two. But most likely, the next players to competently man the middle infield in Pittsburgh are in Lynchburg or lower. Keeping Freddy and Jack around until those younger players are ready would be very helpful to the major league team.
The issue with that is the opportunity cost associated with not trading either player. The Pirates need to acquire talent, even if it means not having an ideal middle infield for a year or two. Once the Pirates collect enough talent, they can make some adjustments to make sure it all fits onto the field at once. But if nobody is offering impact talent, there is no reason to force a trade. It makes some sense to deal Eric Hinske for a couple of marginal prospects. It does not make sense to do the same with Wilson or Sanchez.
There are two ways that this situation could turn out poorly. A) The Pirates force trades of Wilson and/or Sanchez, and do not receive an adequate return, or B) The Pirates extend Wilson and/or Sanchez to contracts at or above their 2009 options. If the team can sign each to something like two years at $10-12 million (maybe add an option year), that would be fine. Or if they deal one or both for impact prospects, that would also be good.
Obviously, management’s focus remains on building the farm system. This is where their focus should be. But Neal Huntington has quietly improved the team in Pittsburgh to the point that it could surprise some people in a year or two. The additions of players such as Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton, along with the progression of Andrew McCutchen and Brad Lincoln, has me feeling pretty optimistic. With some legitimate prospects currently in Altoona, the Pirates are moving in the right direction. Trading Freddy and Jack could add to that talent in Double-A. Keeping them in Pittsburgh for a few years could help the team win sooner than we might have expected. Either way, I will not be disappointed.