Bucs' Wilson just fine with staying put
Shortstop knows chance that he could be traded remains
BRADENTON, Fla. -- After all that was supposed to be and never was, shortstop Jack Wilson checked into camp at Pirate City on Monday.
Yes, for those who went into hibernation for the winter, Wilson is still with the Pirates.
Wilson was expected to be the talk of the trade market this offseason, and up until the Winter Meetings, he was. In fact, Wilson and Pirates fans had already had a makeshift goodbye party of sorts, since the likelihood of him returning for another season in Pittsburgh seemed quite slim.
Though he was dealing with a fractured right index finger injury at the time, Wilson made sure to pinch-hit in the team's final game at PNC Park last season. He singled in that plate appearance, and when the inning ended, Wilson scooped up a handful of infield dirt to keep as a memento. Most -- if not everyone -- in attendance gave the veteran shortstop a standing ovation.
But the deal that the Pirates were looking for in exchange for Wilson never came. The interest was certainly there -- most notably from the Dodgers and Tigers -- and phone calls were made. At one point in December, a news report that Wilson had been traded even surfaced.
Now, though, it's finally time to concentrate on baseball. And it's no surprise that Wilson is expressing an enthusiasm to be back with the Pirates, the team that he has played his entire Major League career with.
"I always said that I would never have a problem coming back here," said Wilson, the longest-tenured player in the organization. "I could be in a very different situation right now with a different team and feeling awkward to be the new guy. But coming here is like coming back home."
Obviously, there's still little reason to believe that Wilson is permanently off the trading block. He has endured his name being in the rumor mill too often to assume anything different. With Wilson now entering the final guaranteed year in his contract, the Pirates are sure to entertain offers for the shortstop when the Trade Deadline rolls around again in July.
Wilson knows that. And he's learned how to successfully deal with that for the past three seasons or so. General manager Neal Huntington, too, said he doesn't expect there to be any lingering effects from the events of the offseason or even the trade talks potentially yet to come.
"In terms of hard feelings, we weren't the ones putting Jack's name out," Huntington said. "We weren't the ones aggressively shopping Jack. We were listening when people came to us as they were trying to fill their shortstop needs.
"We explored all sorts of areas, and we listened," Huntington continued. "It is part of the game, though it must be the toughest part of the game for players to know that that is out of their control. We emphasize to our guys that [they] need to worry about what they can control."
And that's exactly what Wilson did. While he couldn't control his playing destination, he did what he could in order to be prepared for wherever he ended up. After finishing the season at a weight of about 205, he dropped 15 pounds over the offseason, a goal that was set mutually between he and trainer Frank Velasquez.
Much of that weight had been gained from a lack of activity in September when that finger injury limited Wilson. But between beginning offseason workouts in October, earlier than normal for Wilson, and giving up soda cold turkey, Wilson shed the pounds with little other effort.
Wilson also arrives at Spring Training healthy, a welcome sight after an injury-plagued 2008. It was a season in which Wilson found himself on the disabled list for the first time in his now eight-year career. And it proved to be a much longer stay than expected.
Due to the left calf strain early in the season and the finger injury late in the year, Wilson played in a career-low 87 games.
Though he had only been at Pirate City for a few hours Monday, Wilson also immediately pointed out that he wasn't the only one who had taken the offseason workouts seriously.
"I think you'll see the drive in practice and see the type of shape people came in," Wilson said. "People look great, and that's a testament to how badly they want to do it on their own. You can come here and work your butt off, but if you don't do it in the offseason it doesn't matter. I'm excited to see everyone in such good shape and raring to go."
Having been the constant presence on a team that has not had a winning season since 1992, Wilson has seen otherwise. And he's also endured the results.
Over the offseason, Wilson made comments about desiring for the organization to go and acquire more players to make a team that went 67-95 in 2008 more competitive. Since those comments, the only free agent to sign a Major League deal with Pittsburgh was Eric Hinske.
Knowing that now, Wilson wanted to make sure that his comments back in December don't deter from the talent he does see within the organization. Asked if he sees the team as it is now as being competitive this season, Wilson answered in the affirmative.
"I think everyone in the offseason is hoping that you can add certain key players," Wilson said. "It turned out that didn't happen for us, but don't let it take away from the guys who are still here who can go out and get the job done.
"The talent is here," he continued. "You've got Major League Baseball players here. That's the bottom line. You look at our players and they deserve to be here. They are good enough to be here. I think you have no other choice than to go out there with what you've got. We have very talented players, and that's all you can really ask for. We have a fairly young group, and each of us has the possibility of going out and having great years."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.