One Year Ago Today: Morgan/Milledge Trade

One year ago today the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan in exchange for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett.  The deal was first rumored four days earlier, when Ed Price reported that the Pirates and Nationals had been in talks over a Morgan/Milledge swap, and that the Pirates wanted Craig Stammen included in the deal.  Following the rumor, a debate started over what was better: talent or a good attitude, stemming over the perceived attitude problems from Lastings Milledge.  Finally, the deal was done, with a surprise swap of Joel Hanrahan for Sean Burnett included.

Let’s take a look at my comments on Morgan and Milledge at the time of the deal:

That debate is going to remain for Pirates fans now that a deal is done. One side will love the deal because we got a five tool guy in Lastings Milledge, with the potential to be so much more than Nyjer. The other side will hate the deal because Milledge is said to be a head case, and Nyjer is a very likeable guy.

I’ll throw my opinion out there: I really like Nyjer Morgan, but I think Milledge can be the better player. You need better players to win, not nicer players. Therefore, I’m a fan of the trade.

As for the breakdown of the trade, the Nationals get Nyjer Morgan, who is the best rated defensive outfielder in baseball this year. Morgan also provides speed on the bases, but has little power, and just a .277 average, with a .351 on-base percentage.

Milledge is a five tool player who has yet to put it together in the majors, although he’s only had one year of everyday playing time, which came last year with Washington. Milledge hit for a .268/.330/.402 line with 14 homers and 24 steals. He hit .282/.341/.438 from mid-May to the end of the season, with 13 of his 14 homers, and 21 of his 24 steals.

Milledge had been sent to the minors early in the season, following a poor start in his first few weeks, followed by a suspension for showing up late to a team meeting.  Milledge broke his finger shortly after being demoted, and went on the disabled list in the minors.  Milledge came in to the 2009 season with expectations high, and the two week struggles, the injury, and the “attitude problems” caused his value to plummet.  Morgan came in to the season with no expectations, getting his shot at a starting job for the first time.  He displayed a good ability as a leadoff hitter, with excellent defense in left field.  Despite the values at the time of the deal, Morgan was seen as being at max value, with Milledge having plenty of room to grow.

Then there was the Joel Hanrahan/Sean Burnett swap:

The inclusion of Sean Burnett and Joel Hanrahan was a surprise. Burnett has been one of the best relievers for the Pirates this season, with a 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 23:15 K/BB ratio in 32.1 innings pitched.

Burnett broke out last year with a 3.75 ERA from July to the end of the season. However, he was more of a lefty specialist, with a .171 BAA vs lefties, compared to a .328 BAA vs right handers. Burnett has improved against right handers this season, with a .189/.211 lefty/righty split in his BAA. However, he still struggles in some regard, allowing 11 of his 15 walks to right handers, for a .357 OBP (compared to .254 vs lefties). Burnett was arbitration eligible starting next season.

Hanrahan started the season as Washington’s closer, following a breakout 2006 campaign where he posted a 3.95 ERA and a 93:42 K/BB ratio in 84.1 innings pitched. He converted 9 of 13 saves in his time as the closer for Washington (after Jon Rauch was traded). This year Hanrahan has struggled, blowing three saves in April, and posting a 7.71 ERA on the season. His K/BB ratio of 35:14 in 32.2 innings is in line with his 2008 numbers. Combine that with his .451 BABIP and Hanrahan could be experiencing some bad luck. Hanrahan also throws a fastball that is consistently 95-96 MPH.

The situation here mirrored the Milledge/Morgan swap.  Hanrahan came in to the season with big expectations on him.  Burnett came in to the season without those expectations.  Hanrahan struggled, which was probably bad luck, and Burnett had a breakout season.

Fast forward a year later, and the trade doesn’t have a clear winner.  Morgan was on fire after the deal, with a .351/.396/.435 line in 191 at-bats after the deal, before getting injured for the remainder of the season in August.  This year Morgan is hitting for a .251/.312/.324 line, which is worse than his numbers with the Pirates in 2009.  Morgan has also struggled on defense, currently with a -7.3 UZR/150.

Milledge made his debut for the Pirates in August, and turned his season around, hitting for a .291/.333/.395 line in 220 at-bats in the final two months of the season.  So far this year he’s hitting for a .272/.344/.373 line, however, he’s been improving month by month.  In the month of April he was hitting for a .229/.281/.289 line in 83 at-bats.  In May he improved to a .269/.360/.346 line, which was a good improvement in his on-base percentage, although he still lacked power.  In the month of June he broke out, with a .328/.400/.507 line in 67 at-bats.

Burnett has put up a 2.96 ERA in 51.2 innings since the trade, with a 7.7 K/9 and a 1.91 K/BB ratio.  Hanrahan has been slightly better, with a 3.00 ERA in 63 innings, with an 11.9 K/9 and a 2.59 K/BB ratio.

The analysis of the move really hasn’t changed much in one year.  The big difference is that Milledge and Hanrahan have regained their value, although Milledge isn’t playing up to his potential yet.  The Pirates still have the upside factor in their favor.  If Milledge ever breaks out and realizes his potential, the Pirates end up with a steal.  Morgan may not be as bad as he has been this year, but he doesn’t have the upside that Milledge has, and likely won’t improve on his 2009 numbers.  Burnett and Hanrahan have been good relievers, although Hanrahan comes with the added bonus of being a potential closer in the future, maybe even in 2011.

It will be interesting to see how this deal looks this time next year.  Will Milledge finally realize his potential?  Will Hanrahan be the Pirates’ closer?  Will Morgan bounce back for the Nationals?  Only time will tell.

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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, 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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