Hard to believe the Pirates will retain talent

This morning, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates have approached infielders Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson about contract extensions.

Should we credit the small-market Pirates for stepping forward and investing the money it takes to retain top talent?

Not yet.

I will be the first to praise the organization if I receive a press release announcing new deals for both players before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Until then, I’m staying skeptical.

The Pirates have already traded several players this season, including supposed franchise cornerstone Nate McLouth. After those deals, there came criticism from fans who haven’t seen a winning season since 1993, when Barry Bonds was playing left field.

The odds are not in Pittsburgh’s favor, for the simple reason that it’s difficult for teams and players to find common ground in the current economic climate.

Clubs point to the recession and argue that salaries should roll back in accordance with diminished revenues (Orlando Hudson, $3 million, one year). Players look at the contracts awarded to their peers in recent seasons and believe they deserve as much or more (Julio Lugo, $36 million, four years).

Just Friday, we learned that the Red Sox, one of the richest teams, had suspended contract talks with Jason Bay because the sides weren’t within striking distance.

How could the Pirates have much optimism in a marketplace that is stifling even the wealthy Red Sox?

The current contracts for Sanchez and Wilson are due to expire at the end of this season. Both have team options for 2010, and Sanchez’s is likely to vest because of a clause for plate appearances. As a result, both have been available on the trade market, although there has been some public pressure to keep both players.

Now, suddenly, we hear that the Pirates are offering them extensions. But the precise terms haven’t been made public yet. So, I’m starting to wonder.

Teams everywhere have been very cautious with their dollars this season. Now, suddenly, a traditionally-tightfisted team is talking about a long-term outlay.

I hate to say it, but something doesn’t add up.

What if the proposals are well-below-market? What if they are so low that the players have little choice but to refuse them? And what if, after that happens, the Pirates move forward with plans to trade Sanchez and Wilson?

Well, according to that theory, then the Pirates can say, “The players refused our offers and left us with no choice but to trade them away and improve our organization’s future.”

But that’s not the intent, the Pirates insisted on Friday. They wanted to pursue the extensions quietly, they said, rather than let the process become public. They saw their offers as fair and justifiable, not intentionally low. And I want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I hope this is not an effort to flip the blame, from management to two players on their way out. I hope, for the sake of Pittsburgh’s fans, that the team is making an earnest attempt to sign these guys. I hope I can write about how Sanchez and Wilson will be with the Pirates for years to come.

Otherwise, this is all going to do more harm than good, in a city that deserves a winner.