June 4, 2009
BASEBALL: McLouth Overboard
There's not much good that can be said about the Pirates trading Nate McLouth to the Braves for three prospects. It's not as if McLouth is about to walk as a free agent:
McLouth is under contract through at least 2011, having signed a three-year, $15.75 contract in spring training. The deal includes a team option for a fourth year at $10.65 million, with a $1.25 million buyout.
That's really not that much money, even for a team like the Pirates, and while McLouth is hardly a superstar - according to the Fielding Bible, he was a very far cry from deserving his Gold Glove last season - he's not at all overpaid for a guy who has produced a 120 OPS+ since 2007 (.268/.353/.482), runs well and can play an outfield corner if you're not happy with his defense in center. As Bill James wrote of the Seattle Mariners in the early 1980s, if you couldn't afford to pay Floyd Bannister, you have no business owning a major league baseball team. The same goes for the Pirates: if you can't afford to pay Nate McLouth, you have no business owning a major league baseball team.
Yes, the Bucs got three prospects back, but they have plenty of "prospects"; what the Pirates lack is baseball players. McLouth is 27 and, with the arguable exception of Freddy Sanchez, is the best player on the team. Maybe he'll be a little past his prime and at the end of his contract by the time Pittsburgh's younger players have come into their own, but if you keep dealing away guys like McLouth you never even get close enough to contending to make those kinds of decisions.
And what did they get back? Gorkys Hernandez, the key guy in the deal, has slugged .387, .387 and .391 the last three seasons (two of those in A ball), and this year has 15 walks and 54 strikeouts in a third of a season and has been caught stealing 8 times in 18 tries. That may not suggest a failed prospect: Hernandez is still just 21, and the Braves system has a lot of pitchers' parks. But he's a long way from being the player in AA that McLouth is in the National League. Charlie Morton flopped with the Braves last year, although his minor league numbers are still pretty good. And Jeff Locke is 6-16 with a 4.42 ERA in A ball since the beginning of last season; Locke's peripheral numbers are better than that, but like Morton and Hernandez, he's got nothing in his record that would just blow you away and make you say "hey, we should trade our best player, who is 27 and signed for two more years, for this guy."
Now, I pity the fools who run the Pirates.
The decision to trade McLouth is shaky enough to begin with, but I have to think the Pirates could have brought in better prospects if they'd really shopped him around. I'd be against the Mets trading Fernando Martinez for a guy like Matt Holliday who can walk after this season, but I'd certainly consider trading him for a solid player like McLouth who could help now and stay under control for a few more years. And I think the Yankees, with Gardner and Cabrera in centerfield, would consider parting with some of their better prospects for McLouth as well.
See www.bucsdugout.com for the a lot of discussion among the Buc faithfull about this trade.
IMHO, I am OK with it. McLouth was one of the best players on a team lacking in talent all thru it's system. That being said, he would not be a star player on any good team. At best he would be a 3rd or 4th OF.
The new managment of the Bucs is stressing getting more talent into the system. There is a major shortage of SP talent at the AAA and AA level. If fact, they have only 1 SP (Brad Lincoln who is below AAA) who has any prospects of being better than a No. 3 starter. They got 2 SP who have a shot at making the team.
Also the Bucs have a promising player in McCutcheon who needs to play. This opens the door for him. Also, Brandon Moss has got to play every day. They do have other "older" OFs who can fill in as needed. Nobody great but serviceable for now.
Above being said, it was not a "dumb" move. Rather a move to get talent for a player who will not be a major factor when (if) the Bucs become competitive in 2011/2012. Maybe they could have gotten more but if McLouth's BA keeps dropping, they might have gotten less.
So far the new management team has been a decent judge of talent but the jury is still out because not enough time has gone by to see what their success rate is.
File this one under "check back in two years and let's ee how it worked out".
Great post, and I agree.
It is only a little bit undermined by the fact that the Pirates were in the process of sweeping the (second highest payroll) Mets when it was posted.
Not a salary dump, I think they genuinely like the players they're getting, and the Pirates *don't* have plenty of "prospects". The minor league cupboard is pretty bare except for Andrew McCutchen, the guy who will replace McLouth in CF, and a couple guys in AA. We'll see in a few years if they did the right thing or not.
It's a defensible move for the Bucs. They won't be contending by the en d of McLouth's contract anyway, so they might as well get players for the next good Bucs team. Gorkys lacks power but he demonstrates speed, D, and OBP skills and is very young. Morton has been mowing down minor leaguers this year. It is fair to ask "could they have gotten more" but it is unclear that they could have. Of the long list of bonehead moves by the Bucs trading away a very good but not great 27 year old like McLouth isnt one of them. Although if I was a Mets fan I'd also be inclined to hate them for the move.