<
>

Pirates avoid arbitration with All-Star shortstop

PITTSBURGH -- All-Star shortstop Jack Wilson and the Pittsburgh Pirates avoided salary arbitration Thursday by agreeing
to an $8 million, two-year contract.

Wilson will make $3.4 million in 2005 and $4.6 million in 2006,
and he has the chance to earn additional award bonuses.

The Pirates planned a news conference Friday with the
27-year-old Wilson, the first Pittsburgh shortstop in 96 years with
more than 200 hits in a season. Wilson's 201 hits last season
matched Hall of Famer Honus Wagner's career high-tying total in
1908.

Wilson sought a three-year contract that would take him through
the remaining years he is eligible for salary arbitration. None of
the Pirates' other five arbitration-eligible players was offered a
multiyear contract.

Last year, Wilson became the first player to win an arbitration
case with the Pirates in 11 years when he was awarded a $1.85
million salary.

Wilson's season justified his money: a .308 batting average, 11
homers, 59 RBI, 201 hits, an NL Silver Slugger award and an
excellent year defensively. He was the only Pirates player on the
NL All-Star team, and was presented the Roberto Clemente Award from
Pittsburgh baseball writers as the team's most valuable player.

The Pirates likely felt more pressure to do a multi-season deal
with Wilson after two other good-hitting, good-fielding shortstops
signed much bigger contracts: Edgar Renteria, $40 million over four
seasons with the Red Sox, and Orlando Cabrera, $32 million over
four seasons with the Angels.

"Jack's come a long way and he's got lot left to go," said
Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, who pushed for Wilson's promotion
from Double-A to the majors in 2001 after managing him in the
Arizona Fall League. "Jack is going to be as good as he wants to
be. If he continues to put forth a lot of effort, he's only going
to get better."

Wilson became more patient as a No. 2 hitter last season, taking
advantage of leadoff hitter Jason Kendall's good season to jump his
batting average 52 points from his previous career high of .256 in
2003. Wilson's walks dropped from 36 in 2003 to 26, but his on-base
average climbed from .303 to .335.

"From an offensive standpoint, as Jack continues to mature and
becomes more patient, and willing to take more walks, his on-base
percentage and his other numbers should get better,'' McClendon
said.

McClendon plans to keep batting Wilson second, even as
outfielder Matt Lawton replaces the traded Kendall as the leadoff
hitter. The Pirates freed up part of the money for Wilson's
contract when they dealt Kendall to Oakland in November.

Kendall's $60 million, six-year contract had become a huge
financial burden to a franchise that projects to have only a $40
million payroll this season. The trade will save the Pirates about
$15 million over the next three seasons, though they will pay much
of Kendall's $13 million salary in 2007.

Wilson, who never had more than 143 hits previously in a season,
was seventh in the majors in hits and was one of eight major
leaguers with 200 or more hits. He was the first Pittsburgh player
since Dave Parker in 1997 with 200 hits in a season.