Saturday, January 29, 2005

Burnitz Rumors Won't Die

The Pirates are apparently still interested in Jeromy Burnitz. I respond by clenching my fists, raising my arms, making sure no one's looking, smelling myself a little bit, putting my arms back down, shrugging, and saying, "Eh." On the one hand, I'm all for the Pirates spending money, and the acquisition of Burnitz would likely send Daryle Ward and/or Tike Redman to the bench. On the other hand...

Burnitz probably isn't a good player anymore. He hit 37 homers last year, but he did it in the mother of all hitters' parks. There is some theoretical possibility that he'll keep some of that improvement going forward, but he wouldn't be the first hitter to leave Denver and vanish into thick air: see Jeff Cirillo, Chris Stynes, Jay Payton, Jeffrey Hammonds, Brent Mayne and Vinny Castilla. Add that to the facts that Burnitz is as old as the Rockies and that he was downright bad in his two previous seasons (even though he somehow managed to hit 31 homers in 2003), and you've got a lot of signs that Burnitz is in for a disappointing year.

Defensively, I'd have trouble trusting center field to a guy heading into his late thirties who has never had great speed, but Burnitz' defensive stats weren't disastrous last year, and he might be an improvement over Tike Redman anyway. The Bucs' outfield defense is going to be a mess next season, and I don't see any obvious way to avoid that at this point, with or without Burnitz.

If the Pirates want to sign Burnitz to a one-year contract, that's fine with me. Again, I must reiterate that a smarter course of action would have been to pool all this money being used to sign the likes of Burnitz, Benito Santiago, Jose Mesa and the like in order to sign an actual good player, but the Pirates appear to be past the point where that's possible anyway. The only ways signing Burnitz would be an actively bad move for the Pirates is if they gave him more than one year or used the acquisition to push Craig Wilson to a platoon role or the bench. Unfortunately, I wouldn't put those things past the Pirates.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

More Pirates News

John VanBenschoten may be done for the year. Yuck. Let's see: Jason Schmidt, Francisco Cordova, Kris Benson, Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, Ryan Vogelsong... a team that can't keep its pitchers healthy probably shouldn't be drafting them in the first round every single year.

The Pirates settle with Rob Mackowiak, who will be acceptable but hardly a bargain at $1.5 million.

Also, they signed Ben Grieve to a minor league contract. Assuming Grieve couldn't have gotten a major league deal from anyone else, this is a great move by both parties. The chances that Grieve will wind up with Pittsburgh at some point are very good. The chances that he will be productive are also fairly good, and he's still young and talented enough to possibly surprise people and have a season similar to the one Craig Wilson had in 2004.

Grieve has his drawbacks, that's for sure - he's a terrible outfielder, he stinks on the basepaths, and he arguably got worse every season from 2000 to 2003. But look:

Grieve: .361/.424
Matt Lawton: .366/.421

Grieve basically is Lawton, except he's worse on the basepaths and is four years younger. Oh, and Grieve won't be making $7 million next year.

Here are Grieve's most similar batters through age 28:

Sixto Lezcano
Dwight Evans
George Hendrick
Jose Guillen
Dusty Baker

These lists of comparables are rough at best, but every single one of these guys (except Guillen, who played last year at age 28 and shows no signs of slowing down) was productive after age 28. And jeez, Dwight Evans? Dusty Baker? Anytime you can get a 29-year-old on a minor league contract whose top 5 most comparable list includes Evans and Baker, you take him. This is a terrific high-upside, no-risk move by the Pirates. Grieve could easily outplay Lawton next year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Pirates Roundup

Hello friends,

Sorry for my recent absence. The last week or so has been very busy and exciting for me personally, and I haven't had the time or inclination to think about baseball much.

The Pirates news we've heard since Wednesday has mostly been uninspiring. The Pirates avoided arbitration with Kip Wells, Josh Fogg and Brian Meadows. Wells' upside is worth the $3 million gamble the Pirates are taking on him, but the $3 million plus combined the Pirates will be spending on Fogg and Meadows is unnecessary. Last week, Jeff did a good job explaining why Meadows isn't as good as last year's numbers suggest. Fogg is simply mediocre, and despite the Pirates' recent problems keeping their starters healthy, the Pirates might have been better served if they'd handed Fogg's rotation spot to a youngster like Ian Snell and pooled the money they'll be spending on Fogg, Meadows, Benito Santiago and Jose Mesa to sign a single player who could help their dreadful offense.

The other major/"major" move the Pirates made recently was to take steps toward signing Albie Lopez to a minor league contract. Lopez didn't play in 2004, has had elbow trouble, and was awful in limited time in 2003, but he could be a useful bullpen arm if everything breaks right for him this year. The same could be said for at least a dozen younger, higher-upside guys the Pirates already have in the minors, however.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New Pirates Q+A!!!

I give you exclamation points because I finally have something nice to say.

I've read the Post-Gazette's Pirates Q+A for several years now and contributed to it a few times. It was never any good - the questions were fraught with small-market Pirate-pity, and the answers might as well have been written from someone inside the Pirates organization rather than an objective observer.

It looks like things are going to change now that Dejan Kovacevic controls the conch. Not only are his contributions this week mostly very fair and reasonable, the contributions from readers are much better than they've ever been, and not just because Primer regulars Wilbur Miller and Stephen Zielinski wrote in.

Here are some choice excerpts:

Reader: I think the success of the 1997 team is the root of why the Pirates were bad when PNC Park opened. That was supposed to be the first year a five-year rebuilding plan. The team was supposed to lose 100 games, finish in last place by a mile, and no one was going to complain. But something happened. The whole division stunk and the Pirates overachieved, keeping them in the division race until the last week of the season. So, the Pirates entered 1998 with a weaker roster in a stronger division. When the 1998 team failed to perform, Bonifay decided to abandon the plan.

There's nothing I can add to that but a nod.

Kovacevic: The unspoken question here is this: Why is third base seen as so secure? Anytime the Pirates discuss their options for improving the offense, the outfield and first base are mentioned, but never third base.

Anyone feel like looking up the numbers to compare the Pirates' production from third base to the rest of the National League in 2004? I am guessing that it is not favorable.

Okay. This is a great question. The reason third base is seen as secure is because Dave Littlefield traded his best trading chip at the time for Ty Wigginton and a couple of B-grade prospects. In order to make the trade look good, Littlefield now has to spend the next year or so pretending that Wigginton is a good baseball player. That's not a good reason why Wigginton's job is secure for now, but it's a reason.

The Pirates finished dead last in the NL with a .646 OPS from third base in 2004. A lot of that was the fault of Chris Stynes, but Wigginton also added to the stink - he also had a .646 OPS for the Pirates. In fact, the only Pirate who hit like a real third baseman while playing third base last year was Rob Mackowiak.

Rowdy wrote a really nice post about Mackowiak and Wigginton a couple of days ago that I've been meaning to mention. Rowdy wonders why Wigginton should be handed the job, especially since Mackowiak bats left-handed and Wigginton is a righty. I think platooning them is a good idea, at least until the Pirates acquire a better option or Freddy Sanchez plays circles around them both. Wigginton probably will hit better than a .646 OPS in 2005, but not that much better, and his fielding is a mess. Sanchez is supposed to be an adequate shortstop, so he should make a good third baseman, and his hitting could be much better than Wigginton's.

Back to Kovacevic:

There also was a near-universal call to challenge the Pirates' decisions, to scrutinize the team's finances, to keep a constant tally of payroll and expenditures, to interview Nutting, to wiretap McClatchy's phone, to rip through his bank records and many other suggestions in a similar vein. As one reader put it, "Question everything!"

I'm happy to know that other readers are as dissatisfied as I am. This Q+A is really encouraging. Keep it up, Mr. Kovacevic - and question everything!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Former "Ace" Returns

Hey Pirates fans, remember how great the 2001 season was? What? You don't?

Todd Ritchie is back. He hasn't posted an ERA below 5 since leaving, and he had rotator cuff surgery in 2003. His chances of helping are all but nonexistent.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Ten Questions

Trev calls for other Pirate bloggers to answer Dejan Kovacevic's questions in this week's Pirates Q+A in the Post-Gazette. Since there aren't any big news stories today, I'll play along.

1. Who deserves most of the blame for the Pirates' inability to win since moving into PNC Park?

Kevin McClatchy or whoever is pulling the strings right now, for being cheap and risk-averse.

2. When you see young players excel, as have Oliver Perez, Jason Bay, Jose Castillo, Jack Wilson and Mike Gonzalez, do you find reason for hope? Or do you just picture how they will look in another uniform?

Jose Castillo hasn't done anything yet in the majors. But to answer the question, my answer is neither one - the Pirates will have all these guys through what should be their best years. The problem is not that these guys will leave, but that the Pirates won't have enough talent to build a good team while they're here.

3. For old-timers only: Can you recall any Pirates player between Ralph Kiner and Perez who single-handedly drew Pittsburgh fans to the ballpark?

I'm not an old-timer.

4. What are your choices for Dave Littlefield's best and worst personnel moves in his tenure? This does not have to be limited to trades. It also can be an internal move (keeping Castillo in the majors last year, Rule 5 fiasco, drafting Neil Walker, whatever).

Best: the Brian Giles and Todd Ritchie transactions. Worst: All the others.

5. In your mind, which prospect in the organization who has yet to appear in a major-league game has the greatest potential?

I'd say Zach Duke and Neil Walker have the highest upsides, but my choice of Walker has more to do with his youth than anything he's shown on the diamond. I think Duke is the Pirates' best prospect.

6. If Major League Baseball shut down for a full season or more when its current Basic Agreement expires in a couple of years, and you had reason to believe that the end result would be a salary-cap system, how would you react during the work stoppage?

I don't know what Kovacevic is thinking here, but among Pirates fans, a certain logic often underpins questions like these:

A. The Pirates stink;
B. The Pirates spend less money than other franchises; therefore,
C. The Pirates would not stink if they spent as much money as other franchises.

The conclusion does not follow from the premises. While being in a small market probably puts the Pirates at a disadvantage (I say "probably" because we really don't know, since the Pirates won't open their books), lots of small-market teams find ways to succeed. The Pirates haven't. Their last general manager was awful, and their current one is probably worse. The people who are running the Pirates right now don't deserve success, and money has nothing to do with it. If the Pirates had more money, they'd probably just be throwing $25 million at Jaret Wright or something.

8. Who should start in center field? For that matter, what should the outfield look like? Feel free to throw in a free agent you think the Pirates should sign or acquire through trade. But be realistic. No Beltran.

I have no idea. The situation is a mess. Whatever the Pirates decide, Jason Bay and Craig Wilson should be playing every day. Matt Lawton will also probably play every day he's healthy; his defense is terrible, but he should be respectable on offense. Wilson can play either first or in the outfield, and I don't suppose it matters much to me whether Tike Redman or Daryle Ward has to ride the bench. If Ward or Graham Koonce shows anything in spring training, I'd let one of them play first and have an outfield of Wilson-Bay-Lawton. It would be an awful defensive outfield, but at least the Pirates would score occasionally, and it's not as if Redman has been fantastic on defense anyway.

9. How do you feel about the Pirates' decision to delay signing Perez to a long-term contract? Is it a needless risk that could cost the team money in the long run? Or a shrewd show of patience?

It's probably a moot point - Perez won't be with the Pirates any longer than he has to be.

10. A purely selfish one: What would you like to see in the Post-Gazette's coverage of the Pirates in 2005?

In the past, some of the Post-Gazette's coverage has almost seemed like it has come from within the organization rather than from outside it. I would like for the coverage to be more objective. I also second Trev's wish for more draft coverage.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Pirates Sign Koonce

The Toledo Blade reports (scroll way down) that the Pirates have made four more minor league signings. WTM and Rowdy have both also pointed this out.

The news of of catcher Paul Chiaffredo's signing is neither especially interesting nor actually news (WTM has had Chiaffredo's name up on his site for weeks). Kirk Bullinger, another new signee, is just AAA filler.

Brian Mallette carved up the minor leagues as a reliever and put together a good season at Class AAA Louisville last year. He could be a nice fill-in if a reliever gets injured.

The most interesting of these signings is Graham Koonce, a veteran minor leaguer who possesses loads of power and patience but has never gotten a shot in the big leagues. Former Giants first baseman Damon Minor, who signed a minor league deal with the Pirates in December, is about the same age as Koonce and has a similar skill set. Minor, however, agreed to play in Japan a couple weeks ago. Koonce takes Minor's place.

Hopefully, Koonce will be allowed to compete with Daryle Ward in spring training. Ward's contract isn't guaranteed, and even given that the Pirates would have to pay a chunk of Ward's salary if they cut him, Koonce could easily be better than Ward for a fraction of the price. At the very least, Koonce should give Ward good reason not to show up to camp out of shape again.

KFFL reports that the Pirates have also signed Edwards Guzman, a no-hit catcher who might be a backup at Indianapolis.

UPDATE: This post has been corrected based on Brian's note in the comments section. Thanks, Brian.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Prospects: Rays Vs. Pirates

I've been thinking about Kevin McClatchy's (and Paul Meyer's, and Jim Molony's) recent assertions that soon a wave of prospects will arrive to show the Pirates are on the right track. I hope to show here that close examination of a relatively minor acquisition by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays exposes the silliness of McClatchy's claims.

Yesterday, the Rays reached a one year agreement with Alex "The Crappier One" Gonzalez, who played shortstop for the Padres, Expos and Cubs last year. The terms of the deal (one year, $1.75 million) aren't noteworthy, and yet this acquisition is a bit strange. The addition of Gonzalez to the D-Rays could end up affecting just about everyone else in the lineup.

The D-Rays have this shortstop B.J. Upton. Perhaps you've heard of him - after the Pirates passed on him in the draft, he flew through the minors and finished up the year hitting well in the majors. His baseball age was just 19 at the time. He's a tremendous talent worth building a franchise around.

The D-Rays also have another very good young shortstop, Jorge Cantu, who hit very well in AAA Durham and in the majors last year at age 22.

On top of that, the Rays have a perfectly good veteran shortstop in Julio Lugo. The Rays' solution to this "problem" may be to play Cantu at second and Lugo at short, with Upton starting the year in AAA to learn how to play defense better. They'll play Gonzalez, the new guy, at third.

That's strange, because the Rays already have a very good third baseman in Aubrey Huff. Huff's defense isn't that great at the hot corner, but on offense, he's the Rays' equivalent of Brian Giles, putting up very good numbers year after year as the best hitter on a bad team. Huff will likely move to first base or DH as a result of the Gonzalez acquisition.

Now let's look at the outfield. The Rays' corner outfielders next year will be Jose Cruz, a veteran with a good bat and a very good glove, and Carl Crawford. Crawford has already played two and a half seasons in the majors, but he'll still only be 23 next year. He has formidable tools, is a major asset on the basepaths and put up his first good season in the majors in 2004.

The Rays' centerfielder will be former rookie phenom Rocco Baldelli, who's also still very young. Baldelli will be on the DL to start the year, so the Rays may move Crawford to center and start Joey Gathright in a corner. Gathright has no power whatsoever, but he steals bases like crazy and has been an on-base threat at every level. He'll only be 23 next year.

But hang on - the Rays also have Jonny Gomes, who will be 24 next year and hit 26 homers in less than 400 at bats at Durham. They probably should find a spot for him as well. So let's pencil him at DH.

But Gomes probably can't play DH, at least not every day, since we already decided that Huff would occupy one of the first/DH spots, and recently the Rays did something really smart: they acquired Josh Phelps. Phelps will be 27 next year, so he's not a prospect anymore, but he was very good after joining the Indians last year, he wasn't bad in his first full year with the Jays in 2003, and he's only two years removed from hitting 39 homers in AAA and the majors in 2002. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Phelps hit 30 or more homers next year.

An examination of the Gonzalez acquisition shows that the Rays have high-upside young talent at practically every position. I haven't even mentioned AAA slugger Matt Diaz or a trio of young hitters around the age of 20 - Delmon Young, Wes Bankston and Elijah Dukes - who are currently going nuts on minor league pitching.

Admittedly, the Rays' young pitchers aren't as exciting as their hitters. And Chuck Lamar and Cam Bonifay are still in charge, which means they'll probably find ways to screw things up. But the point remains: if you're going to make promises to your fans about your great prospects, this is what your franchise should look like. Meyer recently listed Chris Duffy as an example of the young talent about to change the Pirates. Duffy couldn't hold a candle to at least seven young outfielders in the Rays' system: Baldelli, Crawford, Gathright, Gomes, Bankston, Dukes and Young. The Pirates don't have any hitters in their system who would be among the Rays' top 5 hitting prospects. The Pirates need to improve their minor-league system a lot before they make any more promises about their prospects.

Wilson Contract

The Pirates have signed Jack Wilson to a two-year deal.

I don't have any particular opinion on this one way or the other. The relevant issues are how much Wilson would have made in arbitration, which is hard to predict, and whether he's worth $8 million more than Freddy Sanchez, who should be a decent cheap shortstop option for the Pirates for the next few years. Of course, Sanchez may eventually be needed to fill the Pirates' hole at third base.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Pirates' 2005 Chances

The wonders of capitalism never cease to amaze me. Paul Meyer's been gone what - a week? - and already Jim Molony is primed to corner the market on wishful thinking about the Pirates.

I'm going to pick this apart, because it's fun and because Pirates fans deserve better than this junk. Also, I haven't done a "state of the Pirates" type of column in a while, and it's about that time.

We might expect the writing on to be slanted toward the team; if this were the only writing about the Pirates that read this way, I probably wouldn't bother to comment on it. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream writing on the Pirates looks like this. Here's Molony:

Slowly, but measurably, the Pirates have been building their system and trading away marketable veterans for more prospects to plug into that minor league system.

Also slowly, but measurably, they've been losing those prospects to trades, waivers, and the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates have only brought in one prospect this offseason - the marginal Antonio Sucre - and they've lost Frank Brooks, Tony Alvarez and J.J. Davis. In fact, in the Pirates' last trade, they did almost exactly the opposite of what Molony describes here, trading a marketable prospect (Leo Nunez) for another veteran (Benito Santiago) to plug into that major league system.

Littlefield has had to add a few stopgap veterans to plug holes until the wave of youngsters arrive...

Honestly, if Molony doesn't like actually typing sentences like this, I'm sure he can just bookmark any Meyer column from 2001 to the present and copy-paste a similar sentence.

In 2005, Littlefield will reach his fourth anniversary as GM with a team that has a realistic shot at .500...

Well, I guess the word "realistic" is subjective. More on that later.

...and a system that should soon begin producing the caliber and quantity of Major Leaguers the Pirates must have to contend for a playoff spot.

Where is this coming from? Who are these players? The Cam Bonifay signees who are just now making their debuts are the best hope the Pirates have, and that hope isn't that great. To put into perspective the absurd proclamations about prospects coming from the Pirates' front office and the press, take a look at this list (thanks, Primer) of the top 100 prospects in baseball. These sorts of lists are subjective, of course, but the people who wrote this appear to know what they're talking about, and there are two Pirates on this list, Zach Duke and John VanBenschoten. Neither is ranked above #56. Both players were drafted by Bonifay.

Not convinced? Look at what Trev has to say, or WTM. Not only is the Pirates' minor league system not that great, it's gotten worse under Littlefield, not better.

This is not to say there's nothing in the Pirates' system. One thing they do have is depth. But most of the prospects they have are second-tier prospects, and it's likely that many of those players would fail at the big-league level. It is also likely that many would succeed. Given the Pirates' recent history of blocking prospects who might have some holes in their games - the Santiago trade is a good example of this - it's unlikely they'll show the sort of patience necessary to sort out which of their B-prospects will make it at the major league level. [I copped some of the ideas in that sentence from Russ (post #29) at Baseball Primer.]

In four years, the Pirates will probably still be in the holding pattern they're in now, and people like Molony, Meyer and McClatchy will probably still be saying that any second there will be prospects to save the day. Teams like Cleveland, Milwaukee and even Tampa Bay, who seem poised to take advantage of the sort of favorable draft positions the Pirates have had, are much more likely to be where their fans want them to be by that time.

Back to Molony, though:

This team is not quite there yet. Littlefield has had to add a few stopgap veterans to plug holes until the wave of youngsters arrive, but even so, the 2005 Pirates could be manager Lloyd McClendon's best team yet.

Molony's main arguments in favor of this last assertion are as follows:

-The Pirates have Mark Redman now.
-Some prospects will help in the bullpen.
-Matt Lawton is "proven."
-My favorite: "Continued development is expected from third baseman Ty Wigginton and center fielder Tike Redman." Uh huh.

If Jason Bay can play centerfield, the Pirates might be able to improve dramatically simply by shifting Tike Redman to the bench. It doesn't look like that will happen, however. It seems more likely at this point - and I can't freaking believe this, but I've seen this in several articles now - that Redman will play center and Craig Wilson will move into some sort of job-sharing arrangement with Daryle Ward and Lawton. If that happens, the Pirates will have instantly downgraded their offense considerably from last year, and that's even before considering the loss of Jason Kendall.

I suppose I don't understand where this improvement will come from. Benito Santiago is a massive downgrade from Kendall at catcher, probably 20 runs or so over the season. Where else can the Pirates make up those 20 runs? They might get a few back as Jose Castillo improves. Although Jason Bay and Jack Wilson will probably remain solid players, however, both are more likely than not to take steps backward next year. It's possible that Ty Wigginton will be better than the Stynes/Wigginton/Mackowiak/Hill mess next year, but it's also possible he pulls a Stynes himself, but with worse defense. There is no reason to think that Daryle Ward and Tike Redman won't continue to be among the worst starters in baseball at their positions. Matt Lawton will likely be considerably worse than Craig Wilson, again with worse defense. (If you thought that wasn't possible, just watch.)

The Pirates would probably improve dramatically if Tike Redman, Ward, Wigginton and Santiago lost their jobs and were replaced with Bay, Craig Wilson, Sanchez and House, but that's not likely to happen unless the players in that first group tank so badly they force Lloyd McClendon to bench them, and in that case the Pirates' season is in big trouble.

On the pitching side, Mark Redman will probably help, but there's no reason to think he'll be any upgrade over the two thirds of a season the Bucs got from Kris Benson in 2004. It's true that Redman could keep Ryan Vogelsong out of the rotation, and that would help, but Vogelsong could end up grabbing the fifth spot anyway. Beyond that, where will the improvement come from? Kip Wells could bounce back a bit, and some rookies could indeed help out some. But it would be unwise to expect for Mike Gonzalez and Oliver Perez to be as ridiculous as they were last year. It would also be unwise to expect the same good performances from Jose Mesa, Brian Meadows and Salomon Torres.

Last year, the Pirates allowed 66 more runs than they scored. In order to have a reasonable expectation of finishing .500, they'd have to find a way to close that gap. They made that gap larger by replacing Kendall with Santiago. So where are those 80 or 90 runs going to come from? All the scenarios I can see involve last year's surprises (Bay, Perez, Gonzalez, Jack Wilson, Torres) continuing at the same rates while many others get better. As old readers of Rob Neyer's column will tell you, that's hot stove error number one. The Pirates could finish above .500, sure. Is that a particularly realistic goal for them? No.

Molony ends his column with the following note:

Jim Molony is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

That's nice to know. Maybe next time he'll act like it.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Pirates Considering Contract for Wilson

Dejan Kovacevic writes, "The Pirates and shortstop Jack Wilson are negotiating a contract that could cover all three of his remaining arbitration-eligible seasons, and there is optimism it will be completed within two weeks."

What? Rototimes says that Wilson has two arbitration-eligible seasons left, not three. Shouldn't Wilson be eligible for free agency after the 2006 season? Or is he eligible after 2007 because he was a Super 2? I wrote a lengthy post dissing Kovacevic for the sentence above, but now I'm not sure it's not true. Somebody in the know, let me know.

Now, on to the story itself:

Odle [Wilson's agent] would not divulge the financial terms being discussed, but he did acknowledge that other contracts signed this offseason by shortstops are being weighed on his end of the negotiations.

Kovacevic then mentions the $40 million contract for Edgar Renteria and the $16.8 million deal for Cristian Guzman as examples.

Hopefully, the Pirates will dismiss the Guzman deal with an eyeroll. Wilson's a way better player than Guzman, but Guzman's not worth a quarter of what he's being paid.

I'd rather have Renteria than Wilson for the next four years, but it's not obvious that Renteria will be better than Wilson over that period. Still, if Wilson's agent is suggesting that Wilson should get anywhere near $40 million (or even $20 million), the Pirates should just take Wilson to arbitration and forget about a long-term deal for now. This offseason has been very kind to shortstops - Guzman, Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, Omar Vizquel and David Eckstein all signed very lucrative deals, and only Nomar Garciaparra and possibly Jose Valentin got less than they were worth.

Ultimately, the Pirates should realize that their contract negotiations with Wilson shouldn't necessarily have anything to do with the current free agent market. The difference between Wilson and the Renterias and Cabreras is that Wilson can't auction his services to the highest bidder. He has to play for the Pirates for the next two years (three?) as long as the Bucs are willing to take him to arbitration. If the Pirates want to reach a three-year deal with Wilson (which, by the way, I don't think is a great idea), the relevant facts should include:

1. Wilson's arbitration values for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, which the Pirates can make educated guesses about; and

2. Wilson's value on the free agent market in the 2006-2007 offseason (if this is, in fact, when he's eligible), which none of us can know much of anything about. In early 2001, who would have thought that Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton would be playing for a million bucks in 2003, or that Ivan Rodriguez would be playing for the Marlins on a one-year deal? Not only is it hard to know what kind of player Wilson will be in two years, nobody really knows what the market for free agents will be like.

All this is a very long-winded way of saying that if the Pirates and Jack Wilson want to agree on a long-term contract, the most relevant point should be what Wilson could be awarded in arbitration the next two years. The outlandish contracts for the likes of Orlando Cabrera and Cristian Guzman have very little to do with that.

UPDATE: According to a couple of sources, Kovacevic was right about Wilson's arbitration eligibility. Super 2's get four years of arbitration, not three.

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