When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Nyjer Morgan earlier this month to Washington for Lastings Milledge, most fans didn’t like it. But the same fans grudgingly admit that Milledge has a chance to provide more for the Bucs than did the popular Morgan.

When the Bucs sent Nate McLouth to Atlanta for Charlie Morton and two prospects, there was a near riot. Morton has shown signs of promise and Triple-A farmhand Andrew McCutchen has become a rookie-of-the-year candidate, performing so well that even the most ardent McLouth backers have backed off.

Although it will be a long time before these trades can be fully evaluated, they demonstrate the goal of any trade: to receive a player who will perform as well as or better than the player traded or to open a position for a minor leaguer who has earned a starting spot in the big leagues.

We fans may not like the moves made, but the return is such that we must admit that there is the possibility that the trade may work out in a positive manner for our team.

Although Jack Wilson has been hung out as trade bait for at least the past two seasons and Freddy Sanchez has been rumored as being “as good as gone” before the July 31 deadline, neither of these moves can be justified as either to get someone better in return or to open positions for youngsters ready to burst onto the major league scene.

In fact, the farm system has no one close to being major-league ready, a fact that has been painfully obvious when Wilson, especially, or Sanchez has been on the disabled list. Neither does the trading of either or both players figure to bring strong prospects.

If a team already has solid major-league defensive middle infielders or sure-fire prospects pounding on the starting lineup, why would it trade them to the Bucs?

Arguably the best defensive keystone combo in the major leagues, no one can dispute the value of the Wilson-Sanchez presence to the Pirates’ pitching staff, most of whom are more likely to get the batter to put the ball in play than to strike out the opponent.

“When a pitcher knows he has defense behind him, it makes him feel a lot more comfortable,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “He knows if he attacks the zone, the batter will put it in play, and if it's in play, we’ll catch it. Jack and Freddy have done a great job with that.”

Russell has been vocal in his desire to keep the tandem that leads the majors in double plays right where they are.

Perhaps just as important is that Wilson and Sanchez are the face of the Pirates, Wilson with the team since 2001 with Sanchez arriving two years later.

As such, they mean more to the Pirates than to any other team. Both approached team officials in spring training, almost begging ownership to keep them with the team.

Both players have been active in the community…especially Sanchez, who has made his home in the area.

Both will be just 32 next season, younger than any potential free agent whom the Bucs might pursue. Sanchez currently leads all NL second basemen in batting average and doubles and earned an All-Star berth, while Wilson has been featured in more “Web Gems” than any other shortstop. Together they give daily clinics on fielding.

“There is none better than Freddy and Jack,” respected infield coach Perry Hill told the Tribune-Review. “Hands down.”

“There’s no question they’re a very talented pair of middle infielders,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “In a perfect world, we’d like to try to keep it together for years to come. Is that feasible? Time will tell. But they are fun to watch.”

While the team has at times “actively pursued” a trade while at other times offered contract extensions, Wilson and Sanchez are making a great deal of money.

Sanchez has a reachable performance clause in his contract that will see him paid $8 million next year, while Wilson can become a free agent if the Bucs don’t pick up his $8.4 million salary.

And while the 2010 Pirates could readily afford $16.4 million, especially when one includes the $27.4 million the team receives from revenue sharing, both Wilson and Sanchez have said they will accept less to stay with the Pirates.

Heck, the Bucs gave Matt Morris $10 million last year to not play.

Adam LaRoche is getting $7.3 million this year, an amount the Bucs will save next year either via trade or allowing him to leave as a free agent.

Ian Snell is getting $3.2 million to pitch at Indianapolis and Ramon Vasquez signed a two-year $4 million deal with the Bucs last winter.

Here is a chance for management to put its money where its mouth has been, promising to increase payroll when necessary.

Well, with no one near ready in the minors and the prospects slim at free agency or in trades, Wilson and Sanchez are two players who say they want to stay here.

Extending their contracts would give the Bucs brass some credibility; trading them would give fans every reason to believe nothing has changed.

We’ll know by July 31.

Jim Sankey is a sports columnist for The Allied News.

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