Wilson rumors slow at winter meetings

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008

LAS VEGAS -- Searching for peace of mind amid a sea of speculation, Jack Wilson went to ... Las Vegas?

The Pirates shortstop checked in Monday at MLB's annual winter meetings at the Bellagio. Although he insisted the trip's aim is purely recreational -- "Hey, it's Vegas!" Wilson said with a 100-watt grin -- Wilson knew he'd stepped into ground zero of the offseason trade market.

And Wilson's name swirled in the middle of it all.

"It wasn't until last week that it really started to hit me," Wilson said. "That's when it started to get crazy. There was that false trade report (on the Internet) that really freaked us out."

By last night, however, things had gotten less frantic -- which increased the likelihood Wilson will be the Pirates' shortstop on Opening Day.

The Detroit Tigers, whose hot pursuit of Wilson created a buzz on the Web just a few days ago, yesterday afternoon changed course and signed a less-expensive free agent.

Even with the pool of shortstops drying up, the Minnesota Twins expressed only tepid interest in Wilson, while the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles continued to watch from afar.

Wilson's hefty salary -- a guaranteed $7.3 million over the next two years -- is tying the Pirates' hands, even though the team is willing to pick up part of the tab in a trade.

Wilson has offered to restructure his contract, if it will be a deal-maker.

"I know that with my contract being so backloaded, it's going to be hard to trade me," Wilson said. "If the team wants to move in a different direction, I'm not going to cheat the Pirates and prevent them from doing it. I'm willing to do whatever it takes."

In a suite on the Bellagio's 34th floor, far from the clanging slots and stogie-smoking tourists, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington huddled with his lieutenants. Last night, Huntington said Wilson has not been pulled off the market.

"There are teams that still need shortstops, and there are still shortstops out there," Huntington said. "As the options narrow, from both the buyers' and sellers' perspective, there still needs to be the right fit. We're still exploring to see if there is one."

Huntington paused.

"But, as we sit here right now, Jack Wilson is our shortstop for the '09 season, and that's not a bad thing. Jack's loved by the fans, and he's fun to watch on defense. A healthy Jack Wilson will be a productive Jack Wilson."

Although they're both staying at the same hotel, Huntington and Wilson have not spoken since they arrived in town.

Last week, when the Pirates' talks with Detroit intensified, Wilson and his agent asked for and received an update from Huntington. Wilson even called a couple of Tigers players, including Brandon Inge, to get a rundown on the team.

"I check the Internet every morning, even though most of it is just (speculation)," Wilson said. "But even hearing false information is better than no information."

Sunday night, Tigers officials indicated they were no longer interested. Detroit wound up signing Adam Everett for one year at $1 million, which is nearly $6 million less than Wilson's price tag in 2009.

Even if Wilson is not traded, the Pirates continue to seek a veteran infielder for their bench.

The Pirates had been pursuing Mark Loretta, but he signed with the Dodgers on Monday night, but they may be interested in David Eckstein (who prefers to play second base) and Craig Counsell. Both of those free agents can play either of the two middle infield spots, which would prove handy if second baseman Freddy Sanchez is dealt instead of Wilson.

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