The potential Manny Ramirez/Miguel Tejada swap took an interesting twist today when outfielder Jeromy Burnitz appeared close to finalizing terms on a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Less than a week ago it was reported that Burnitz's agent, Howard Simon, was discussing a $12 million, two-year contract with Baltimore, but that agreement was never finalized.
The Orioles need an outfielder after choosing not to re-sign Eric Byrnes, who agreed to a $2.25 million, one-year contract with Arizona last week. Burnitz appeared to be the O's man, and their pursuit of him was said to signal their lack of interest in a deal for Ramirez. But their sudden snubbing of Burnitz may indicate a recent change of heart.
Earlier today, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said he had "no comment at this time" about any matters relating to a possible Ramirez trade. Yet a deal between the Red Sox and Orioles may be taking shape. It was reported that the Sox have asked the O's for a second player, 22-year-old outfield prospect Nick Markakis, in return for Ramirez and Matt Clement.
If the Pirates finalize the Burnitz contract, they must decide what to do with Craig Wilson, the 29-year-old outfielder-first baseman who missed most of last season with two hand injuries and was limited to 5 homers in 197 at-bats.
The Pirates offered Wilson a contract, but he is eligible for salary arbitration. Since Wilson made $3 million last year and would likely get about $4 million in arbitration, the low-budget Pirates must decided if they can afford to play him that much money to be a part-time player. They may conclude that it's best to trade him now.
Wilson could be a left field solution for the Sox should they indeed swap the unpredictable Ramirez for Tejada. A five-year veteran, Wilson's best season was 2004, not coincidentally the year he saw the most playing time. That year he hit a club-high 29 homers for the Pirates, while driving in 82 RBI and scoring 97 runs. He also had 35 doubles to along with a .354 OBP. The downside is that Wilson is only a lifetime .268 hitter.
And 2005 was a disastrous year for Wilson. He made two trips to the DL that caused him to miss nearly two thirds of the season. In May he tore tissue in the knuckle of his left middle finger while swinging the bat in a game against Arizona, and was subsequently placed on the 15-day disabled list. The following week he had surgery to repair the injury. To make matters worse, he was then hit by a Greg Maddux pitch in July and suffered a fractured fifth metacarpal on the same hand, which put him back on the DL once again.
A combination like Tejada and Wilson could help make up for the losses of Ramirez and Edgar Renteria, both offensively and defensively. The bridge between Manny and the Sox seems so badly burned at this point that the club appears absolutely determined to trade him. That would be an unfortunate end for one of the most productive players in Sox history, but in Tejada the Sox seem to have the best possible replacement for Ramirez's Hall of Fame-like production. Trading a player like that is never ideal, but in Tejada the Sox stand to get a genuine clubhouse leader, who not only plays everyday, but who plays hard and with great enthusiasm and determination.
If the deal is to go down, it should take place by the end of this week - at the latest. Stay tuned.
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