In the current economic environment, the only way the Pirates are going to be able to contend is by convincing a lot of homegrown players to stick around for less money than they could get elsewhere. This is the angle the Brewers have been working with the re-signings of guys like Ben Sheets and Geoff Jenkins. What's great about "hometown discount" signings is not only do they save you money, but they also for the particularly ruthless grant excellent trading chips. If Jenkins was signed to a deal that more closely reflected the market, he'd be an albatross for Milwaukee (or more likely, someone like the Mets or Dodgers) but as it is, he's a valuable commodity even though he's underperformed expectations over the last couple of seasons. The Pirates have two guys they most definitely don't want to let go: more urgently, Jason Bay, and in the long run, Zach Duke. If everything breaks right for Pittsburgh, Duke and Bay (along with unheralded lefty strikeout machine Mike Gonzalez) could be the core of an NL Central champ in, say, 2010. There's no way Sean Casey and Jeromy Burnitz will be along for the ride.
By trading for Casey and signing Burnitz, the Pirates are wasting money that they could either save to offer Bay and Duke in a few years or spend on drafting guys actually worthy of their high-level picks. By adding expensive but basically worthless veterans, the only thing Littlefield is accomplishing is annoying cheap but OK homegrown players like Craig Wilson and the already-departed Rob Mackowiak. That can't be making a good impression on Jason Bay and Zach Duke. Maybe in the extreme short-term it looks good for the Pirates to appear to be loading up (and how about those Sammy Sosa rumors?), but they still have to play the games. There's no way Casey and Burnitz, particularly considering the non-chopped liver-ness of the guys they're ostensibly replacing, make Pittsburgh any more than two or three games better. If even that. With all the dumb moves Seattle, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh have made this offseason, the Rockies' near-complete inactivity looks better every week.
Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the Devil Rays are treading lightly around the trade proposals that will make or break their offseason. Whether as part of the much-discussed colossal Manny Ramirez deal or straight up, Tampa Bay seems locked in on getting Aaron Heilman from the Mets for Danys Baez. Less probable, but still being mentioned, is the possibility of getting Andy Marte from Boston for Joey Gathright and/or Julio Lugo. The Rays are bad, particularly pitchingwise, and need to aim high. A Baez-for-Heilman deal might not be a score on the level of the Victor Zambrano-Scott Kazmir trade, but it'd be a step in the right direction. I like Heilman a lot, particularly as a starter. It's hard to imagine the Red Sox dealing a prospect as heralded as Marte for the likes of Lugo or Gathright, but the bizarre Boston offseason, which has seen them stockpiling dozens of corner infielders while leaving nothing up the middle, may force their hand. There's no reason for Tampa Bay to rush things -- Lugo and Baez barring injury will still be just as saleable at the trade deadline.
Oh, yeah, Preston Wilson signed with the Astros. Yawn. If there's a better place for Wilson to pull balls down the leftfield line than Coors Field, it's Minute Maid Park in Houston. But playing for the feckless Phil Garner, he has a good chance at a 20-20 year -- 20 homers, 20 caught stealings. It's kind of a unique deal, only one guaranteed year but a three-year option. It says here Wilson will play just well enough in 2006 to get his option picked up, then promptly get hurt in May of the second year.