The Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Ike Davis Friday night, shortly before first pitch of their game. In return, the New York Mets receive Triple-A right-handed pitcher Zack Thornton and a player-to-be-named-later.
Davis, a 27-year-old left-handed first baseman, will take Travis Ishikawa’s spot in the platoon at first base although general manager Neal Huntington is reluctant to use that term as it allows manager Clint Hurdle more flexibility in his lineup choices.
“The word platoon gets thrown around a lot, I think this will be where Clint uses his judgment,” Huntington said. “I truly think this will allow Clint to use his bench as a little more of a bench than necessarily a platoon base as he’s had to do up to this point this year.”
To this point, Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez teamed up to post an above-average .775 OPS and four home runs in 76 plate appearances. However, that number is inflated because of Sanchez’s three home runs in his 29 plate appearances, good for a .667 slugging percentage that has his OPS at .997 early this season.
Ishikawa, who has started most of the team’s game at first this year, is batting .212 with a .664 OPS this season. When Davis arrives, Ishikawa will likely be designated for assignment as the corresponding 25-man roster move, as he is currently out of options.
“That’s always the downside of the game is someone has to go out when someone comes in,” Huntington said.
But as Ishikawa goes, Davis enters with 56 home runs and a .828 OPS against right-handed pitching in 1,296 career plate appearances. Those numbers are what made him attractive to the Pirates despite having so rough of a 2013 season that he spent time in the minor leagues.
“He’s had two big seasons and two injury-plagued seasons and we’re betting that our guys can get him back on the right track,” Huntington said. “We’re betting that he’s a better fit in this ballpark than he was in what used to be spacious Citi Field. Very nice complement for Gaby and a guy that we think his good days are ahead of him.”
Even with the trip to the minors, Huntington cited Davis’ numbers in July and August last season that give him confidence in the addition: “a .420 on-base, .860 OPS, playing good defense and again he didn’t get to finish his season, but a walk rate almost 20 percent, the strikeouts were down, the hard contact was up.”
But according to park data from baseball-reference.com, there is no real significant advantage shown in data for left-handed hitters at either Citi Field or PNC Park. At Citi Field, lefties posted a BABIP of .266 in 2013 compared to a .273 clip at PNC Park.
Furthermore, left-handed hitters posted a .645 OPS in Pittsburgh last year which is marginally better than the .640 OPS at Citi Field.
Rumors swirled about a possible deal for Davis during the offseason, but Huntington said this deal was “about finding that common ground and after a number of conversations we found it.”
Thornton goes to the Mets after a solid season among three levels in 2013. He has shown excellent command and a sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s.
Thornton profiles as a middle reliever at the major-league level. With a glut of young relief pitchers that forced Vin Mazzaro off the Pirates roster, Thornton is an expendable piece.
Huntington said he hasn’t spoken with Davis yet, and did not know when exactly the Pirates’ new first baseman would arrive now that the teams found a deal that they both “liked.” The general manager would not offer comment on what changed between the winter and today in terms of asking price to make the deal more palatable to either side.
“I don’t really want to, or feel the need, to get into the details of it but they found a deal they liked, we found a deal we liked, and it was consummated today.”