Pirates Trade McLouth to Braves for Prospects (They Hope)

Nate McLouth was probably Pittsburgh’s best player last year – well, close.  Jason Bay was better for four months but was traded to Boston.  Xavier Nady was amazing for nearly four months but was traded to New York.  Ryan Doumit generated a lot of runs, but is limited defensively (and this year is hurt).  McLouth is better than Freddy Sanchez and either Andy or Adam LaRoche.

He’s pretty good, though.  Above average power (26 homers, 46 doubles last year, on pace for more of the same in 2009); good speed (23 steals, just three caught stealing in 2008).  Patient enough at the plate, doesn’t strikeout too much, but he does fan from time to time.

Defensively, however, he’s not THAT good a centerfielder.  I have him has having below average range the last three years in center (-9.2, -4.3, -4.7 – meaning that for every 800 balls in play, McLouth makes that many fewer plays than the average centerfielder, and therefore adds that many points to the batter’s batting average).  In limited innings, he hasn’t been especially mobile in left or right, either.  So, in addition to putting about 117 runs on the board for the Pirates, he also helped put an extra 15 runs on the board for his opponents.  The net, however, is very positive.   Not every player contributes 100 runs to a team’s success.

So, with the Pirates falling to their usual fate – the bottom of the NL Central and a losing record for the umpteenth straight season – management decided to sell off their best remaining asset to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects.  Was this a good idea?

For the Braves – YES!  With Jordan Schafer being sent to AAA by the Braves yesterday to be replaced by Gregor Blanco, and dissatisfied with the production of Jeff Francouer, McLouth will still be a welcome addition to the Braves.  He’s better than anyone who played there in 2008 (Mark Kotsay, Blanco), and far better than anyone who could play there in the Braves system now.  (Blanco, who just got called up to the majors to replace Schafer, was a below average batter and fielder in center.)  And, none of their TOP prospects were involved in the trade – Hanson, Medlin, and others will still be available to Atlanta for growth or trades.

What did the Pirates get in return?

Charlie Morton was the 2nd round pick by Atlanta back in 2002, and has worked his way through the minors.  To his credit, Morton has improved in terms of his control and strikeout rate.  In 2008, he was far ahead of anything he had done in his prior years and earned a trip to the majors where he was miserable – 6.15 ERA, and walking nearly as many as he struck out.  In AAA this year, Morton has been solid for Gwinnett, even better than in 2008, but not as dominant as Tommy Hanson or even Kris Medlin.

Jeff Locke was the Braves’ 2nd round pick in 2006 out of high school.  Unlike Morton, Locke DOMINATED rookie ball, but since then seems to have taken a step back.  He was okay in 2008 at A Rome; good control, but ugly record and a lot of balls in play turned into hits.  And, in 2009 for Myrtle Beach, he looks very ordinary and not very prospect like.  Baseball America may say he’s a top ten prospect in the Braves system, but not based on this year, for sure.  He’s young and has room to grow; yet Locke is NOT going to pitch for Pittsburgh for two or three years.

The last guy might help some, and that’s Gorkys Hernandez, who is a Venezuelan burner.  Just 21 now (22 in September), Gorkys has 50 steals in him, and has hit well this year at AA Mississippi, coming to Atlanta from Detroit in the deal that sent Edgar Renteria to Detroit in 2008.  Now, while his average is higher and he’s still stealing bases, he’s not drawing walks and his strikeout rate at AA is prohibitively high (54 in just 212 at bats).  Baseball America ranked Hernandez as the fourth best prospect in the Braves system.

Still – a poor man’s Grady Sizemore (check out the comparisons – McLouth is 85% of Sizemore, and Sizemore is overrated defensively, too) for a fourth or fifth starter (at best), a struggling kid pitcher, and a Willy Taveras clone doesn’t strike me as a great deal.  Especially when none of the pitchers can help immediately (and one is going in the wrong direction) and you already have a centerfielder-in-waiting in Andrew McCutchen.  Granted, three players thicken up the talent base, but giving away one of the few hitters capable of putting 100 runs on the scoreboard each year seems like a good deal for Atlanta and a disappointing return for Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh needed to turn McLouth into a pitcher capable of winning 15 games.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Look for Andrew McCutchen, hitting well and running like the wind at AAA Indianpolis, to get the call to play center.  For three years, McCutchen has been one of the two highest ranked prospects (per Baseball America) and it’s time to get him on the major league roster.   If you haven’t gotten him for your fantasy team, it’s time to think about picking him up.

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Filed under Adam LaRoche, Andrew McCutchen, Andy LaRoche, Atlanta Braves, Charlie Morton, Freddy Sanchez, Gorkys Hernandez, Grady Sizemore, Gregor Blanco, Jason Bay, Jeff Locke, Kris Medlin, Mark Kotsay, Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh Pirates, Ryan Doumit, Tommy Hanson, Xavier Nady

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