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Bobby Crosby for Jack Wilson: Dealing for Question Marks

Tom AuSenior Analyst IIDecember 31, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Jack Wilson #9 of the Seattle Mariners is congratulated by teammates after he scored on a hit by Franklin Gutierrez to give the Mariners a 4-0 in the second inning in their game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on September 4, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates' Bobby Crosby made $5.3 million at shortstop this past year for the Oakland A's, but the Pirates have signed him for $1 million plus incentives. One of the reasons was that they let go of Jack Wilson last summer for two question marks, Ronny Cedeno and Jeff Clement.

And how much was Jack Wilson re-signed for by the Seattle Mariners? $10 million for two years, plus a $600,000 buyout of his $8.4 million club option for 2010, or an average of the same $5.3 million per year, for two years.

That's a bit more than the $4 million per year offered by the Pirates to Wilson last summer, but not much more. Wilson reportedly offered to work at about $6 million per.

But Wilson is decidedly the better shortstop. A somewhat better defender than Crosby, and also a better hitter. In short, worth about one more win during a season.

The "new math" (of the recession) says that the extra win is worth about $3 million. That's down from $4.3 million a win before the recession. Hence the $4 million offer to Wilson versus $1 million to Crosby.

But Wilson might also beat expectations, as much as Crosby, meaning that the $4 million should have been the base salary, with the possibility of his earning the $6 million he wanted, after incentives, based on performance.

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The Pirates also acquired second baseman Akinori Iwamura from the Devil Rays for 2010 for about two-thirds of Freddy Sanchez' $6 million a year.

Iwamura is the "safer" choice, in the sense of costing less money, and also in the sense that his injury year was better than Sanchez'.

But Iwamura's historical upside potential is also worse than Sanchez'. The Pirates might have done better to stick with what they had when the difference was less than $2 million. The difference between the two men is easily the half a game represented by the money difference.

As mentioned before, the Pirates' trading desk over the past two years was too much like a hedge fund "stat arb" operationtoo much trading for the sake of trading.

In brokerage lingo, this is called "churning." Not gaining ground, on balance, and losing money on commission costs (fan and player loyalty in this instance).

This was different from earlier trading; Xavier Nady and Damasco Marte for Ross Ohlendorf et al., and Nate McLouth, for a package including Charlie Mortonsurplus outfielders for badly-needed starting pitching, and "uptrades" overall.

Wilson and Sanchez were the best double play duo in all of the major leagues, not to mention great all-around guys. Trading them to save money was foolish, especially without clearly identifying better replacements.

In the end, the Pirates' management may have weakened the team while turning off fans.

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