It’s time to trade Jack Wilson

The winter meetings start next Monday, which means that it’s time for general managers to start denying their interest in any and all things that are mentioned. Neal Huntington is already in fine form:

General manager Neal Huntington will arrive in Vegas with a fairly defined course of action. His approach will continue to be passive, as the Pirates are content in waiting to see which of their players pique the interest of other clubs and then negotiate from there.

“We have not targeted to trade any single player on our roster,” Huntington said. “We’re letting things fall to see if there is a good baseball market out there.”

Passive is not going to get Huntington anywhere when it comes to moving someone like Jack Wilson. The Tigers are certainly interested, but they’re also probably interested in Alex Cora and the Rays are probably going to make Jason Bartlett available. Bartlett is a shorstop who’s value is predicated on his defense, only he’s younger and cheaper than Wilson.

The prospect of trading Wilson, meanwhile, leaves some questions for Huntington. Both here and in other places around the web, it’s been suggested that the quickest route to improvement for the Pirates this year is through improving the defense. Trading away the guy that’s likely the best defender on the team and the anchor of the infield, which is stronger defensively than the outfield, is not a good way to do this. Might it actually be worth it to keep Wilson around for the purpose of building a stronger defense?

The short answer here is “no.” Using David Pinto’s PMR, let’s look at the top shortstops that played as much or more than Jack did, along with their age.

  1. Mike Aviles, 27 (28 in March)
  2. J.J. Hardy, 26
  3. Erick Aybar, 24 (25 in January)
  4. Cesar Izturis, 28 (29 in February)
  5. Jack Wilson, 30 (31 this month)
  6. Bobby Crosby, 28 (29 in January)
  7. Jason Bartlett, 29
  8. Hanley Ramirez, 24 (25 this month)

Jack’s the oldest on the list. If we expanded the list down to guys that played less at short, Omar Vizquel, Marco Scutaro, and Alex Cora, who are all older than Jack, would rate similarly on the list. None of those guys played more than a half-season or so at short. If we looked at payroll, Jack would also be the highest paid on this list (though Hanley Ramirez will rightly overtake him this year).

All I’m getting at here is that given his age and cost, Jack Wilson’s likely not a good value for the Pirates or anyone. When players get to be his age they either get worse defensively or less durable. Given that Jack’s games played are trending pretty seriously downwards (158 in 2005, 142 in 2006, 135 in 2007, and 87 in 2008), I’ve got a guess as to which category he’s going to fall into.

Things are rarely that simple, though. If you go back to the PMR link, Pinto registered Wilson as making 9 plays more than predicted, but on the season the Pirates actually made three plays fewer than expected at short. If Brian Bixler really is that bad (and to be fair, he probably isn’t), what kind of return for Wilson do the Pirates need to make up for that kind of drop off? But then, if Wilson’s only got 100 games of good defense left in a Pirate uniform and they’re all coming in a season in which the Pirates likely won’t even be contending for a winning record, how much is that really worth?

In the end, I think the Pirates have to trade Wilson and given the other good-glove shortstops on the market, they probably have to trade him sooner rather than later. Unlike Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, who drove their value up with a good first half in 2008, Wilson’s not likely to do much for his value in the first half of 2009 except drive it down by getting hurt again. It’s possible that a contender will see a shortstop go down in the first half of the season and that will create a spot for Wilson, but given his age and the possibility that he has a bad first half, I don’t think it’s worth it to count on that. Figure out what Wilson’s worth and get it for him now. If a trade doesn’t happen during the Winter Meetings, I think it might be too late.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.