Jack Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been linked to numerous teams this offseason. It seemed for a bit as though a deal shipping him to the Tigers had been completed. Reports then surfaced disproving this notion and merely adding the Tigers to a list of several interested teams, including the likes of the Dodgers, As, Royals, and Blue Jays. Jack is currently owed $7.25 mil in 2009 with an $8.4 mil club option for the 2010 season.
As of right now, however, Wilson is still a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jack turns 31 years old in a couple of weeks and a few of his performance indicators seem to be moving in the wrong direction. He has never been an offensive force, with the +6.2 batting runs produced in 2004 the best of his career, but his patience appears to be deteriorating. His O-Swing%, which measures the frequency of swings on pitches outside the strike zone, has risen from 18.5% in 2005 to 26.9% last year.
His rate of contact on these pitches out of the zone has increased as well, from 68% to 80%. Contact on pitches out of the zone does not necessarily refer to balls put in play, so a chance exists that Jack merely may have been fouling off plenty of these pitches. Regardless, the increased swing frequency helped reduce his walk rate from 7% to just 4% in 2008.
Defensively, Wilson looked stellar last season, saving +7.4 runs with the glove in just slightly over half of a season. Injuries prevented him from playing the entire year, and over the last three seasons, he has topped out at 142 games played. The UZR defensive mark in 2008 showed great improvement over the numbers posted in 2006 and 2007.
Back in 2005, Wilson saved +13.3 runs, before declining almost two full wins defensively the next season to -7.5 runs. In 2007, he improved slightly to -2.7 runs, making him a bit below average. Optimistically averaging out his defensive performance, we can call him a +4 run defender in 2009. Since he is not very likely to play an entire season based on the past three years, his positional adjustment at shortstop is +6.0, not +7.5.
The positional adjustment is per 162 games, and Wilson is currently projected to play 130 or so games. Likewise, the +20 runs adjustment given to show value above replacement, not average, would be prorated to +12 runs, since he is not projected to come close to 700 plate appearances. Put together, Wilson is -7.5 runs offensively, +4 runs on defense, +6 runs with an adjustment for position, and +12 over replacement.
This adds up to +14.5 runs, or +1.45 wins. If Wilson were a free agent right now, with a going rate of $5 mil/win, his fair market value would be $7.25 mil. As I mentioned at the start of this post, his current contract will pay him exactly $7.25 mil next season.
Wilson is not a superstar and he certainly is not the missing piece of the puzzle for a team extremely close to contending, but he appears to be an above average defender at the toughest non-catching position to field, and is not atrocious with the bat.
He might not be the definitive answer to a team, but with 130 games and 418 PA, would be productive enough to truly merit his 2009 salary. If he ends up playing 150 games and amassing 600 PA, his value rises to +2.05 WAR, worth over $10 mil in a 1-yr deal. Given that the option for 2010 belongs to the club, and isn’t triggered mutually or by the player, and that the farm systems of potential suitors need not be mortgaged for his services, a team looking for a stopgap would be well-served to acquire Wilson. Unfortunately for Jack and the Pirates, Rafael Furcal and Orlando Cabrera still need “homes” and are higher on wishlists, making it all the more tougher to trade the pesky shortstop.