Pirates on verge of losing keystone combo

Wilson Sanchez Obviously, the jury's still out on Neal Huntington, who's been the Pirates general manager for less than two years. Last season, the Pirates went 67-95 ... after going 68-94, 67-95, and 67-95 in the previous three seasons. This season they're doing slightly better, and with a run differential significantly better than their 40-51 record. It's well known that the Pirates haven't posted a winning record since 1992. They're not going to post a winning record this year, either. But having been outscored by only nine runs this season, the Pirates have a legitimate shot at getting into positive territory by season's end, something else they haven't done since 1992. Which would be a good thing.
Would it be a good thing, though, to get Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez locked in for another couple of years, an idea the Pirates floated last week?

    The Pirates have approached shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez about multiyear contract extensions, putting on hold, for now, the possibility that either will be traded by Major League Baseball's July 31 deadline.

    And there is a catch, one unusual in professional sports: If one player does not sign, the other probably will not, either. Wilson and Sanchez are best friends to the point of being virtually inseparable, on and off the infield dirt.

    "I'm very excited to possibly continue my career in Pittsburgh, to finish what I've started, and Freddy is going to be a vital piece of any decision I make," Wilson said last night after the team's post-break workout at PNC Park. "Without Freddy, I think, it would be tough to win without a player like that."

    "I want to finish my career turning double plays with Jack in a Pirates uniform," Sanchez said. "If it works out, it would be unbelievable. This is what we've been talking about for a long time."

That's really cute. Seriously. I hope that Wilson and Sanchez spend the rest of their careers together. But they're both 31 -- born just a week apart in 1977 -- and the singular thing that poorly financed franchises simply cannot do is invest big dollars in players in their 30s because (as you know) those deals almost never work out for the club.
As it turns out, my worries were unfounded. Over the weekend, Dejan Kovacevic reported the modest size of the offers, in terms of both years and dollars:

    The Pirates yesterday made their initial financial offers toward keeping shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and they drew decidedly mixed reactions.
    The offer to Wilson, according to two sources, covers two years plus a club option. No money terms were divulged, but it was seen as competitive even though it represented a significant cut from his current $7.4 million salary. Wilson would prefer three guaranteed years.

    But the initial offer to Sanchez, also made yesterday, was for two years and a total believed to be in the range of $10 million. That would represent a cut from his current salary of $6.25 million and, more striking, the total is $2 million more than the $8 million Sanchez is set to make in 2010 alone under the vesting option in his current contract, one that would be annulled under the Pirates' proposal.

    Sanchez is on a comfortable pace to achieve the 600 plate appearances necessary to trigger that option.

    Both offers, apparently, came with little flexibility on the Pirates' end ...

Sanchez and Wilson are both having great seasons. Sanchez was terrible last year, but he's on pace to be worth something like $18 million. Not bad for a guy who earns $6.25 million. Wilson was fine last year and has been even better this year, on pace for a $12 million season while earning only $7.25 million. The Pirates, throughout both players' careers, have received excellent returns on their investments. Usually the way it works, teams do really well with players in their 20s, and poorly with players in their 30s. ROI-wise, anyway. That's just how the system is set up, at least as long as there are franchises who don't properly value performance.
I don't believe that Neal Huntington believed that Sanchez or Wilson would accept these initial offers, and they haven't:

    Wilson's offer covers two years at a total of $8 million, it was learned yesterday, plus a club option for 2012. That offer at least reached the point where it was delivered formally and considered. Wilson would prefer a guaranteed third year, but it was not outright rejected, and Wilson remains steadfast in his insistence that Sanchez gets signed, too.
    The scenario is somewhat different for Sanchez, whose offer covers two years at a total of $10 million while also voiding his current 2010 vesting option worth $8 million if he achieves 600 plate appearances this season, which he likely will. That offer was rejected emphatically, to the degree that no further talks were planned.

Sanchez had little choice, because he's worth more than $10 million for one season, let alone two. Wilson is also worth a great deal more than offered, though in his case it's not as obvious because so much of his value comes from his defense. So (you might wonder) why didn't the offers come at least somewhat close to the players' "real" values? Because a team like the Pirates really can't afford to pay the market rate for veteran players. Not good ones, anyway.

I suspect that Huntington extended the offers merely so he could say that he did. It'll be a shame if the Pirates can't keep Sanchez and Wilson, but both are quite valuable and should bring excellent return if traded.

Given how valuable they are and the Pirates' apparent inability to keep them -- friendship's worth only so much, right? -- Huntington's handling of their departure will go a long way toward defining his legacy as general manager.