Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Pirates and Monetary Decisions

(I first posted this on the blog Bucs Dugout)

While the conversation about the usefulness of Delwyn Young, Luis Cruz, Shelby Ford et al. is interesting, I think we are missing the much more important question facing the Pirates this year.  How to manage the club option the Pirates hold for Freddy Sanchez in 2010?

For those of you not aware of the details, the Bucs hold a club option for Sanchez next season which, if exercised, would pay him $8 million (or $8.5 million if certain incentives are reached).  If not exercised Sanchez would receive a $600,000 buyout.  The fly in the ointment in this case is that Sanchez's option becomes guaranteed with 635 plate appearances or 600 plate appearances and a selection to the All-Star team in 2009.

In contrast the Pirates hold a $8.4 million option on Jack Wilson for 2009 with a similar $600,000 buyout.  But, in no case does Wilson's option become guaranteed, which is why he looked to open up negotiations on an extension this spring.

Now no matter what you think of Jack and Freddy as people or "faces of the franchise," there is no way in the world these guys are worth that kind of money next season.  This isn't about loyalty or anything like that.  This is about allocating resources to produce a winning team.  It appears the Pirates have made it very clear that they will not pick up Wilson's option under any circumstances.  Seeing Orlando Hudson get a one year deal for $4 million from the Dodgers, it is clear that the economics of the game are changing with the difficult economic environment faced throughout the country and there is no way the team should allow Sanchez's option to vest.

If he bats second in the lineup and gets 4.5 plate appearances/game that he starts he will reach 600 appearances in 130-135 games.  This leaves the team with an interesting dilemma.  Do they manage Sanchez's appearances during the season--and consequently play clearly inferior players--in order to make it virtually impossible for him to reach the needed numbers by the end of the year?  Or, do they play Sanchez so that he is on pace to start 150-155 games and then just basically sit him all of September in order "to see what we have" in the organization, likely creating bad feelings in the clubhouse and with the fan base?

Obviously, in the unlikely but wishful situation that the Pirates are in the pennant race in late August-September, you can be sure Freddy will be on the lineup card everyday.  However, discounting that eventuality, the Pirates face a very real issue that they should be thinking about starting now and not August 15th.  And if they back into guaranteeing the option they will be spending $4-7 million that I strongly feel could be better used elsewhere.