Brian Bixler - Larry Coor/Flickr.com
I think, given various conversations that are going on, it can be agreed upon by one and all of us that it is not a matter of if, but when Jack WIlson will be traded. As Cory talked about yesterday, there are reasons both for and against his departure, though much like Jason Bay I think the reasons to keep him are more sentiment than business logic.
One complaint I have heard is that if we trade Wilson, we have to get a shortstop in return, preferably one who can play now at the MLB level, or we're all doomed and the trade is a failure. I'm choosing to say quite the opposite, and that such doomsday talk is nothing more than attention-grabbing exaggeration, for two primary reasons:
1. The existing alternatives are not terrible. Everyone talks about what terrible options Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz are in the middle infield, but those claims are unjustified in my opinion.
Let's look at Bixler. Last season he hit .280/.346/.402 for AAA Indianapolis, but everyone looks at the terrible April he had here in Pittsburgh and assumes he's a washout and a AAAA player at best.
I personally hate when even I try to justify arguments by picking and choosing numbers, so I promise to be logical about it here. First, I think that Bixler's first three games of the season at Indy are far enough removed from the rest of his playing time at Indy that those three games worth of numbers can realistically be excluded.
Simply by doing that, we learn that from the time Bixler was sent down at the end of May, he put up a .288/.363/.412 line. If you want to take that a step further and cut out the five games he played at the end of May, his line gets closer to .290/.800, but that's probably pushing it as far as realistic number tweaking.
I realize that he isn't DiMaggio, but his bat can be just as good as Jack's if he can merely keep doing what he did for the last 3+ months of last season, and possibly better if he can improve his absolutely atrocious K:BB ratio.
The next step down (and perhaps really a 2B option to replace Freddy more than to replace Jack) is Luis Cruz.
Everything that is said about Cruz must be tempered with the knowledge that up until last season, he posted numbers that belonged to someone barely worthy of being promoted through the system, let alone someone worthy of consideration for a major league roster.
However, Cruz may be showing signs of being a late bloomer. He could well have been thrust into professional ball too soon, since he was already in his fourth season and playing with his second franchise by the age of 20.
He was even off to a bad year last year in Altoona, until a promotion to Indy looked like it flipped some switch in his brain. He put up a solid .325 average and .830 OPS in 32 games for the Indians.
Impressive as that was, when your first thought at seeing a stat line is "where the hell did this come from?" it is unlikely that you will ever see that kind of production again.
Cruz may be an exception. At the age of 24, he is currently playing winter ball for Yaquis de Obregon of the Mexican Pacific League and he is continuing to produce , posting a .318 average and an .817 OPS through 39 games. True, it is still a fairly small sample size, as this gives Cruz a .321/.372/.444 line in 71 games between Indy and Obregon compared to 2900 minor league at-bats that haven't looked that good since he was in rookie ball.
On the other hand, as many scouts will tell you, it is widely believed that if a player shows an ability even once, it is no longer their burden to prove they have that skill, but the coaches' job to make the ability permanent. He will also need to prove his shoddy defensive track record to be a fluke, but if Cruz turns this strong winter league play into a good spring training, he's going to start looking a lot like Sanchez (caught fire late in a season, built momentum, good spring, became a pretty good MLB regular).
2. It is not necessary to acquire a shortstop to replace Jack Wilson. This is not Aboriginal Australia, and so we don't have to make sure that we trade chickens for chickens to keep our stock up. Everyone knows the best thing for Pittsburgh to do is mimic the Rays, acquiring the best talent they can get in any transaction and worrying about where to put that talent at a later date.
It is equally likely that the Pirates could trade Wilson for whatever the best talent is (regardless of position) and then turn around and talk with another team who has a desirable shortstop prospect and turn it into the Adam Laroche trade, two teams both trading depth to fill needs.
Jack Wilson will surely be missed, but more for being a great guy than for being an incredible player, and to dismiss his potential replacements as veritable black holes based on what little you've seen (especially ignoring what they've done when you weren't watching) is downright foolish. Patience, people, patience.
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