Neal Huntington looks petty. What he probably wanted was to offer Sanchez and Wilson lowball contracts, have them refuse them, then go to the media and say, "Hey, we offered extensions," without the terms of those extensions being released. When word about the contracts leaked to the Post-Gazette, I think Huntington looked caught like a deer in the headlights, because he never had any intention of making serious offers.
In explaining himself, Huntington has been unusually candid about his thoughts and about Wilson's deficiencies. Normally I think it's kind of cool when GMs are honest; I think of a few years ago, when Padres GM Kevin Towers said, while Kevin Jarvis was still on his team, that he was a good "sludge merchant" in trying to get another GM to take on Jarvis' contract. But it's a different situation when the GM who's being honest is the GM of the team you root for.
"In Jack's case, he has played terrific defense for us, maybe the best of his career. But this is the fourth of five years that he's been a below-average league bat for his position. So, we've got to be realistic in our evaluations. We talk about that all the time. We've got to put deals on the table that make sense for us. If they make sense for the players, we move on. But we can't be held hostage because we don't have enough option. We believe that we have enough talent in the system that, if we have to trade for a shortstop or second baseman, we can do that. We could look for a free agent. Adam Everett signed for $1 million a year ago."
I don't really see the need to bash Wilson's offense when you're trying to trade him, even if other GMs already know that Wilson is a bad hitter. And, regarding Adam Everett: by UZR, at least, Everett's defense has gotten worse every year since 2007, while Wilson's has held steady or improved. And I know Everett himself is not the point, but the Tigers are making noises about signing him to an extension. So the good defensive shortstops in the 2009 crop include... John McDonald, one of the worst hitters in the majors. Orlando Cabrera, who's 34 and whose offense and defense have been way off this year. Alex Gonzalez, who has all kinds of injury troubles (and the Reds have a 2010 option on him anyway). That's pretty much it. Combine that with the general trouble the Pirates have getting free agents to come play for them, and it's clear that losing Wilson would come with a price.
And: "enough talent in the system"? The idea that the Bucs would dump Wilson and/or Sanchez and then trade prospects for a middle infielder is just scary. If that's a strategy they're considering, they should just exercise Wilson's option which, again, is maybe for a bit more than market value. Nobody wants to play for the Pirates, so the Bucs would probably have to sign players for a bit more than market value anyway.
If it comes down to trading prospects in order to avoid paying $8 million, well, Huntington's going to have to do another extremely candid sit-down with the press to convince me he's serious about building a contender here, and I might not believe it even then. Now, maybe they can trade Wilson for a great prospect and get another shortstop in return for next to nothing. But this still seems like an odd thing to talk about unless they've already got a deal in place.
I'm open to the idea of trading Jack Wilson. In fact, I think it's a strategy the Pirates should consider, as a way of potentially acquiring prospects who can help later. But Huntington's comments suggest he's thinking about doing it for the wrong reason: to avoid paying Wilson's option year. Which frankly just strikes me as business as usual for the Pirates, and I think that's the first time I've typed that since Huntington and Frank Coonelly took over.