Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dilemma for the Pirates: What to do with Craig Wilson

Craig is off to a great start, with two homers in last night's game. He's back in the lineup today at first base as Casey continues to nurse his ribcage injury.

Let's assume that Craig will stay healthy this year, that the hand injuries of last year are fully healed and won't hamper him at all, and that any lingering doubts about a significant dropoff in production, based on his poor second half in 2004, prove to be groundless. If all of those things are true, then he would undoubtedly outperform Jeromy Burnitz or Sean Casey, at least in the most important offensive part of his game, and any difference in the defensive part of the game is unimportant.

It's clear, though, that the Pirates don't have plans to resign Wilson after this year. So what do they do? The situation presents the Pirates with a number of equally unpleasant scenarios:
  • They hold onto him until mid-year or until just before the trading deadline at the end of the season. The risk here is that he continues to outproduce players who get more playing time than he does while he remains on the team, and the escalating rhetoric from the increasingly angry fan base, which has already begun, becomes deafening.

  • They trade him now for a starting pitcher. This scenario is a public-relations minefield for the Pirates. Among the possibilities are that Wilson has a terrific year with the team we trade him to, putting up stats that greatly exceed those of Casey and Burnitz, and the Pirates have to deal with two productive players who got away: Wilson in addition to Shelton; that the pitcher we acquire for Wilson has a lousy year, always a possibility with pitchers; or a combination of the two, which makes the PR damage exponentially worse.

  • They keep him all year and get nothing for him before he enters into free agency. This then becomes another data point (along with Sanders, Stairs, Lofton, and many others) for the argument that Littlefield doesn't know how to turn existing talent into talent that can be used in the future.

That the Pirates find themselves in this situation at all is another example of the strategic disarray of the franchise. What's the plan here, and how do the acquisitions of Casey, Burnitz, and Randa fit into whatever the plan is? The owner seems to have directed the general manager to throw money at a short-term problem--convince the more gullible members of the fan base that we are not pocketing all of the revenue-sharing money by acquiring a few players that they have heard of and, in the process, help to promote season tickets in the year that Pittsburgh is hosting the All-Star Game. What does this do to the future of the franchise, and how does this fit into achievement of some long-term goal? No one seems to know or care.

So if the Craig Wilson dilemma does cause the owner and general manager to squirm this year, they will have richly earned the privilege.


Blogger Rory said...

I agree with the assessment that it appears the owner has directed the management of the money. If its true it implies that this wasn't necessarily just "bad decisions" on the part of DL. But it also implies that they actually aren't pocketing money. Maybe if KM didn't care what the fans thought and actually cared about winning, we wouldn't have this problem.

Optimum PR situation, I'd think, is phantom injury to Burnitz or Casey. The best baseball situation, I'd think, is phantom injury plus Craiggers putting up ridiculously gaudy numbers, netting us a first round pick when he leaves via FA.

5:44 PM  

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