Freddy Sanchez surging, sitting

Dejan Kovacevic gets Frank Coonelly's bristles up ...

    Sanchez The Pirates did not bench second baseman Freddy Sanchez twice last week to hold down his plate appearances and keep him from triggering an $8.5 million vesting option for 2010, team president Frank Coonelly said last night.
    And Coonelly made plenty clear his displeasure at being asked about it by the Post-Gazette.

    "I am very surprised and, quite frankly, offended that anyone would suggest that, in the middle of our worst slump in his tenure as a major league manager, John Russell would do anything other than put out the lineup he believes gives us the best chance to win the most baseball games," Coonelly said, referring to the eight-game losing streak the Pirates carried into last night. "A player's contractual clause has no bearing on J.R.'s lineup or player usage."

    Coonelly said Sanchez was rested as part of the team's plan to keep its regulars fresh.

    "J.R. has shown his desire to give his players, especially veterans, an occasional day off to keep them strong and healthy over the course of the season," Coonelly said. "J.R. also feels it is important to use his bench frequently to keep them sharp. J.R.'s use of Freddy and every other regular this year, just like last year, reflects these two strongly held views and have nothing to do with any individual player's contract clause."

    Sanchez's clause works this way: If he makes 635 or more plate appearances this season, or if he makes 600 plate appearances and is chosen for the All-Star Game, his $8.5 million option is automatic. If he does not break those thresholds, the Pirates still can pick up the option if they choose.

    Sanchez has been out of the starting lineup three times in the first 32 games, including Thursday and Sunday of last week. That gave him three days off in a five-day span, including the team's off-day Monday.

    He started last night and still is on pace to make 668 plate appearances.

As long as Sanchez is hitting, the Pirates have to play him. If they don't and Sanchez doesn't get his 635 PA, the Players Association will file a grievance and the Pirates will lose, leaving them on the hook for $8.5 million and with a great deal of egg on their organizational face.
Yes, it does look strange to rest one of your hitters twice in four days. But the Pirates really don't have an attractive option here. All they can do is reasonably rest Sanchez, and -- if they don't want that clause to vest -- hope that Sanchez suffers some minor injury that keeps him out of the lineup for a couple of weeks.

That might seem terribly cold-hearted. But in some cities, $8.5 million is still a lot of money.