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Pirates eye Matt Clement |

Pirates eye Matt Clement

| Saturday, March 18, 2006 12:00 a.m

BRADENTON, Fla. — Craig Wilson’s days with the Pirates could be numbered.

According to a major-league source, the Pirates are trying to trade Wilson, their 29-year-old outfielder/first baseman, for a veteran pitcher that would shore up their rotation. One target could be Boston Red Sox right-hander Matt Clement, a Butler High School graduate.

At least four clubs are believed to be interested in acquiring Wilson before the start of the regular season.

In return for Wilson, a bench player they profess to deeply covet, the Pirates are hoping to snag an experienced pitcher who would replace Kip Wells in the starting rotation.

Wells, 28, is expected to miss at least half the season after earlier this month undergoing a vein graft procedure to correct a circulatory condition in his throwing arm.

General manager Dave Littlefield reiterated Friday that he would be comfortable beginning the season with a rotation consisting of mostly younger, inexperienced pitchers. But he followed that vote of confidence by hinting — for the first time during spring training — that he might be looking outside the organization for rotation help.

“You’re always trying to get stronger anywhere that you can get it,” Littlefield said.

When asked about the interest in Wilson, Littlefield said: “We talk to general managers every day, and the good news is that people are interested in our players.”

In light of the uncertainty surrounding Wells’ return and in an effort to end a streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates are pursuing a veteran to join young left-handers Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Oliver Perez and right-hander Ian Snell in the rotation.

In Duke, Maholm, Perez and Snell, the Pirates would be stocking their rotation with four players under the age of 25.

The Pirates, though organizationally deep with prospects such as Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny, likely don’t wish to pin the pressure of winning during an All-Star Game season entirely on the shoulders of such a young — albeit talented — staff.

As they are currently constructed — after the offseason acquisitions of Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Roberto Hernandez and Damaso Marte — the Pirates are near their ownership-imposed salary limit. That cap is in the upper $40 million range.

Wilson is due to make $3.3 million this season, after which he, like Wells, will be eligible for free agency.

Since they will most likely lose him at season’s end, the Pirates could gain value by trading Wilson for a veteran pitcher. The addition of Burnitz and Casey has relegated Wilson, who hit 29 home runs in 2004, to the bench.

The Pirates’ dilemma is the amount of salary they would be willing to absorb in a trade. An All-Star in 2005, Clement is set to earn $9.5 million in each of the 2006 and 2007 campaigns.

Clement, 31, went 13-6 in 2005, which was his first season with the Red Sox. He is 82-81 with a 4.37 ERA over seven seasons with the San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Chicago Cubs and Red Sox.

Even with the Red Sox’s apparent interest in Wilson, the Pirates would not deal him for Clement unless Boston agreed to pick up a sizable portion of Clement’s salary for those years. Also, the Red Sox likely would want the Pirates to include one of their prized pitching prospects in the deal.

A more affordable option on the Red Sox roster would be 29-year-old Bronson Arroyo, a former Pirates right-hander. In January, Arroyo signed a three-year contract worth nearly $12 million. Arroyo won 14 games last year, his second in the Red sox rotation. The Red Sox claimed Arroyo on waivers from the Pirates prior to the 2003 season.

Let’s make a deal?

In hopes of landing a veteran starter, the Pirates are shopping outfielder/first baseman Craig Wilson. Here’s a look at what they would be giving up if they deal the 29-year-old:

Season….AB….Avg. …HR….RBI….On-base pct.

2001….158…. .310….13….32…. .390

2002….368…. .264….16….57…. .355

2003….309…. .262….18….48…. .360

2004….561…. .264….29….82…. .354

2005….197…. .264….5….22…. .387

Career….1593…. .268….81….241…. .363

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