Pirates trade McLouth to Atlanta

I think one thing is obvious right now: the Pirates really didn’t like Nate McLouth’s new haircut.

I got home tonight to find some shocking news. No, not the Nate McLouth trade. That came a little later. I was out in the garden, watering the plants, and I noticed that one of the neighborhood cats had completely stolen the catnip that my wife and I grow for our two cats. And by “completely stolen” I mean “ripped the plant up by the roots and took off with it”.

Of course my two cats probably witnessed this, watching from the window as the culprit escaped with the goods. Cat nip has no appeal to me, so apart from the loss of a few dollars, I couldn’t really empathize how they felt, seeing something so good stolen from them.

That is, until I later read about the Nate McLouth trade.

My reaction on the trade is a mixed bag, and what better way to sort it out than by just throwing those ideas out there in no specific order. So here we go.

First, let’s review the player. McLouth started getting regular playing time in August of 2007, hitting for a .284 average with 10 homers in 169 at-bats over the final two months of the season. In 2008 he had a breakout year, with a .276 average and 26 home runs, while leading the National League in doubles, and winning an NL Gold Glove. In the off-season the Pirates signed him to a three year deal with an option for a fourth year, buying out his first free agency year.

I was a fan of the Jason Bay trade for one major reason: Bay was only going to be with us through 2009. In return we got immediate help at third base (Andy LaRoche), and we received a high upside pitcher (Bryan Morris) who could be with us in 2011. However, it’s not like McLouth was going anywhere, and it’s not like McLouth took up a lot of payroll. He was owed $4.5 M next year, $6.5 M in 2011, and a $10.65 M option in 2012 with a $1.25 M buyout.

I was never against the idea of trading McLouth. While he’s a good player, we currently have Andrew McCutchen (who just got the call to replace McLouth), Jose Tabata, and Nyjer Morgan is looking good. So if you look ahead to mid-season 2010, you could see a potential log jam in the outfield.

I’m also not against the prospects the Pirates received. Gorkys Hernandez is one of the top centerfield prospects in the game, ranked as the Braves #4 prospect, and ranked #67 in Baseball America’s list of the top 100 prospects in 2009. Hernandez is hitting .316/.361/.387 in AA this year, and seems like a better version of Nyjer Morgan.

Jeff Locke was ranked as the #7 prospect in Atlanta’s system by Baseball America. He’s a 21 year old left handed starter. Locke throws a 91-94 MPH fastball with good movement, and a hard curveball. So far this season Locke has pitched 45.2 innings in A+ ball, with a 43:36 K/BB ratio, and just one homer. Locke seems to fit the mold of the type of pitcher the Pirates are after: he has a 54.8% ground ball ratio, way above average for starting pitchers.

Charlie Morton is 25 years old and projects as a bottom of the rotation starter. Morton got the call to the majors last year (maybe early in part due to injuries to Atlanta’s rotation) and posted a 6.15 ERA in 74.2 innings, with a 48:41 K/BB ratio and 9 homers. He’s doing much better at AAA this year, with a 2.52 ERA and a 55:16 K/BB ratio in 64.2 innings pitched, with three homers allowed. Considering his age, I’d hardly call him a AAAA pitcher. Morton also has a tendency for ground balls, with a 49.2% ground ball ratio in his minor league career.

So to recap: I agree with the idea of trading McLouth, and I like the players we got in return.

But don’t confuse that with me liking the deal. I mean, I would be open to trading my car in sometime in the future, and I wouldn’t mind getting a bike (a 21-speed, not a Harley). That doesn’t mean I’m going to trade my car for the bike.

Maybe that’s overstating how I feel about the trade. It’s not like we’re trading Atlanta a stop-gap player. They get Nate McLouth for at least two and a half seasons, and they have an option for a third season. They will also most likely receive compensation picks when McLouth becomes a free agent.

The biggest problem I have with this deal is that our biggest return in the deal is a few years away. The top two prospects will be in AA (Hernandez) and A+ (Locke). Hernandez could be up in 2011, and maybe Locke will be up in 2012. Meanwhile the Braves will still have McLouth. If I have one complaint on this deal, it’s that we should have seeked immediate help.

The Braves traded Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Felix, and Beau Jones for a year and two months of Mark Teixeira. A year and two months later Andrus, Salty, and Harrison are playing for the Rangers, and Feliz is one of their top prospects, on the verge of a call-up.

I’m not saying McLouth is anywhere near the talent that Teixeira is. However, Nate McLouth is a gold glove center fielder, under team control for three and a half seasons, with .280/25 home run potential, and he’s in the prime of his career. I don’t think we’re going to see Locke and Hernandez in the majors in a year or two. The Pirates could have gotten one player who is close to the majors, and by that I mean an impact player, and not a bottom of the rotation starter like Morton.

I realize the Braves are high on Tommy Hanson, but that’s the idea trade: McLouth for Hanson straight up. The Pirates get their ace, and the Braves get their center fielder. And it’s not like the Braves are trading their top prospect for a rental. They’d be trading six years of a prospect pitcher in exchange for 3.5 years of a proven major league center fielder.

Let’s say there’s no possible way to get Hanson. At the least the Pirates could have gotten guys with more upside. The Braves have two outfield prospects rated better than Hernandez: Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward. Heyward is the best of the bunch, currently in High A ball. He’s hitting .295/.373/.561 with 9 homers in 139 at bats. If we’re going to go for someone that is a long way’s off, we should at least go for a guy with Heyward’s upside (potential #3 hitter). I would have even been in favor of McLouth for Heyward and Locke, as Heyward could be in the majors by 2010.

Then there’s Jeff Locke. He’s not a bad guy to have, but he’s not the top pitching prospect for the Braves. We could have gone after Cole Rohrbough, a left hander ranked as the #6 prospect for the Braves, who has a 92-94 MPH fastball, and a power curve that Baseball America describes as borderline “unhittable” when it is on. He’s also a guy who could be up sometime in 2010.

If the Pirates were going for lower level prospects, they should have received one high impact guy. Instead they took the lesser outfield prospect, and the lesser pitching prospect. It’s not that I think Hernandez and Locke are bad, but for McLouth the Pirates should have gotten a Heyward/Locke or Hernandez/Rohrbough combo.

Overall I don’t think it was a bad idea to trade McLouth. I also like the guys we got in return. I just think we could have gotten more, and we should have gotten more. We just traded our best hitter, and arguably our best player, and in return the best guys we received won’t see Pittsburgh until possibly 2011.

Other Thoughts on the Trade

-If the trade brought one good thing it’s the promotion of Andrew McCutchen to the majors. McCutchen hit for a .304/.370/.470 line in the month of May at AAA, and is ready to take over as the center fielder of the future for the Pirates.

-I have updated the following pages on the site:

2009 40-Man Roster: You’ll notice a pre-trade section for McLouth. This is McLouth’s salary tha

t the Pirates have already paid. Andrew McCutchen and Charlie Morton were added (Craig Hansen was moved to the 60-day DL to make room). Im not sure of the exact salary for McCutchen, so I’m assuming the league minimum. I also am assuming Morton has a two way contract, as he makes $405 K in the majors.

Payroll Commitments Chart: Removed McLouth and added McCutchen and Morton. I’m assuming that McCutchen will miss being a “Super Two” player due to the timing of this move, and won’t be eligible for arbitration until the 2013 season.

25-Man Roster: Added McCutchen as the starting CF.

Neal Huntington Trade History: Pretty obvious what I added to this page.

-The Pirates only save $1.3 M in salary in 2009 with the trade of McLouth. That is even less when you consider that they add about $275 K for McCutchen over the remainder of the season ($400 K * .66). So the 2009 savings are about $1 M. As for the 2010 and 2011 savings, I guess we’ll have to see if the Pirates decide to spend the $11 M owed to McLouth over those two seasons. Overall I don’t think this move was made with payroll in mind. They could have traded Adam LaRoche and saved about $4.5-5 M this season to accomplish that goal.

-The Pirates now have the following outfielders in the system: Nyjer Morgan (under team control through the 2014 season), Andrew McCutchen (under control through the 2015 season), Brandon Moss (2014), Jose Tabata, Gorkys Hernandez, and high upside guys in the lower levels like Robbie Grossman and Wes Freeman. The addition of another outfielder doesn’t make much sense, unless another shoe is about to drop. Maybe the Pirates are planning on dealing Hernandez for a pitching prospect. That’s just speculation, as a Morgan/McCutchen/Tabata outfield would be together through the 2014 season.

-Charlie Morton will go to AAA, Hernandez will go to AA, and Locke will go to A+.

-Am I the only one who feels that the addition of Morton could mean that an Ian Snell trade is in our future?

-Speaking of my cats, their reaction to the Nate McLouth trade:

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Jim Rosati

    See, I love the trade.

    I get what you're saying about not getting a player who can contribute immediately for McLouth. But at the same time, this trade means Cutch is now the starting center fielder…so it's kind of like we got someone to take over…kinda.

  • Tim Williams

    I like the fact that we're going to see McCutchen up. However, we could have traded McLouth for a bag of balls and still accomplished that.

    After thinking a bit more, I would have been happy if we got Heyward. Gorkys seems like another Nyjer Morgan. Not a big upgrade there. Heyward is the type of player we need: potential power hitting outfielder/#3 hitter.

  • Jim Rosati

    I agree. Heyward would have been better than Hernandez.

    But Hernandez is also really young still (21). And I would say he has more power than a Morgan. Hernandez could develop some power. Not much…but some.

    Morgan hit 7 HR's in 6 minor league seasons. Hernandez has 14 in 4. A little better.

  • Tim Williams

    Gorkys has drawn comparisons to Kenny Lofton. That's not a bad thing if he turns in to another Lofton. I could see 10 HR power.

    Gorkys/McCutchen/Tabata is going to be a very fast outfield when the time comes.

  • szielinski

    Grossman and Marte have cooled off since the season began. Cole has had his troubles too.