Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pellas On The Pirates: Thumbs Down To The Nate McLouth Trade

If Braves uberprospect Tommy Hanson had been in this trade, I would've been ambivalent about it. Meaning, ya hate to see Nate leave town, but Hanson becomes your staff ace, so I can see why they did it. Without Hanson---or a similarly lights out prospect---I am absolutely sick about it.

Nate McLouth has just been disrespected in Pittsburgh for the last time. When push came to shove, in the end, whether it was McClatchey and Littlefield or Nutting and Huntingdon, the front office never really believed in him---despite McLouth's undeniable production every single time he's gotten on the field for any length of time. The ONLY way you make this trade is if 1) you have VERY good reason to believe that McLouth WAYYY overachieved last season and will never again approach those numbers so sell high while you can, and 2) you're getting an offer you simply can't refuse.

In my considered opinion, this trade meets NEITHER of those two criteria. While McLouth has definitely been struggling of late---no question there---he is still on pace for another 20-20 season. Even with a .250-ish batting average, his OPS is still over .800, which is still All-Star range for a center fielder, at least in this era where there aren't many CF types that can really hit.

And even in a worst case scenario with McLouth, at minimum he is STILL a better than average, all around, complete ballplayer in the prime of his career at age 27 who was under team control for VERY reasonable dollars. WHY ON EARTH would you sign him to such a team-friendly contract, call him a building block for the near term, and then panic-deal him at the first signs of a slump? Don't forget, either, that Nate had the ribcage injury earlier in the season. I predict he will soon put that behind him and return to his previous form or something very close to it.

Now, we all know that Andrew McCutchen is ready to play in the bigs. No argument there, and I'm sure he will likewise be at least a better than average all around major league CF---just not right away, and it may be two years or longer before he is roughly equivalent to McLouth, if then. I guarantee he will NEVER hit for the kind of power that McLouth has. There are plenty of questions about McCutchen, and I for one think we are a stronger team with both of them here than with McCutchen only. Further, an outfield of Morgan-McCutchen-McLouth would have been far and away the best defensive outfield in all of baseball. Which it would have had to be to make up for mediocre offensive numbers---except from Nate, who of course is now in Atlanta.

A Pirates outfield of Morgan-McCutchen-(Moss/Young/Hinske etc) is not only defensively inferior but also takes a huge hit with the stick and---don't forget---on the basepaths. With Morgan and McLouth, we had just enough team speed to have some options in how we play the game. Without McLouth, we have only Morgan, and he is no McLouth (or even Juan Pierre) with a bat in his hands. Nor, apparently, is this kid we got from the Braves. Where is HE going to play? Oh, that's right: he goes to double-A Altoona, after being traded twice in less than two seasons. Does that generally happen to elite prospects? Anybody remember Andy Marte? Look him up if you don't know who he is, er, was.

And no, McCutchen doesn't count in the basestealing department because despite his great speed, he is NOT a high percentage basestealer. If he couldn't get it done in the minors, what, all of a sudden he's McLouth or better now that he's in the majors? I don't think so. Nor do we have enough leadfooted sluggers that it doesn't matter that we have next to nobody who can steal or even take an extra base to put some pressure on the opposition. Somebody should remind Neil Huntington that this is Pittsburgh, not Cleveland or Boston.

No, too, on the pitchers we got from Atlanta. I'll go out on a limb and say I'm more than a little skeptical that either one of them will ever be anything close to two other hurlers who came from the Braves to the Pirates, guys named Jason Schmidt and Zane Smith.

Nope, no, nyet, negative, forget it, I'm not buying it. Not this time. Bay and Nady, yes. They were going to be much too expensive free agents. McLouth, NO WAY.


(Hey, the Bucs finally roused Will Pellas to step up to the batters box!)


Jeff Pellas said...

Why does this trade hurt so bad? It is different than the Nady trade or the Bay trade. Nate was one of our own. A home grown All Star. A player whose character, effort and heart were unquestioned. And, unlike Bay or Nady, he genuinely wanted to be in Pittsburgh and help the team succeed. The hit from the Bay trade was softened because we still had McClouth. But McLouth's departure paving the way for the unproven rookie, McCutchon, is like taking away genuine hope and leaving us with a pipe dream. Even the most loyal Pirate fan has to be saying to himself, "Here we go again." So why was McClouth traded? I think Will hit the nail on the head that Pirates' brass, deep down, didn't believe in McClouth and decided to trade him while he was, they believed, at his highest value. There is no question the Pirates have very little young minor league talent and can use the depth the McClouth trade provided. However none of the players brought in with the trade address the current or fast approaching personel shortcomings: 1). They still have no short stop ready to take over for Wilson who they will not keep without him accepting huge pay cut (and maybe not even then). 2). Without McClouth's power it is even more imperative that the Pirates find a corner outfielder with some pop and they obviously haven't goten one yet AND 3). Adam LaRoche will also likely be gone and they don't seem to have a 1st baseman prospect ready, unless they beleive Steve Pierce is the guy (not likely).
One thing to consider regarding McClouth is that, as much as he was beloved by Pirates fans who watched him rise through the minors, Coonelly, Huntington and Russell did not watch him come up. They are all Johnny-come-latelys who have no more loyalty toward McClouth than to any other player on what is a perennially losing organization. So why should they care? McClouth was just another asset to be used as they saw fit. But why, then, do they now have all the Center Fielder prospects? Perhaps, to the Pirates, these trades are simply about acquiring assets rather than filling specific needs at this point. Lets face it. They can't swing a trade for a "Big Time" player or prospect that they specifically need without having something to trade with. Neal Huntington has said he'd make any deal if he thought it will benefit the team. The trading of McClouth proves he is a man of his word. Perhaps the signing of McClouth to the deal recently was to make him more desirable as trade bait. Atlanta is ecstatic that they have McClouth for several years and have already said that that was one of the determining factors in trading for him. Does that mean Maholm and Doumit are also not long for this team? If the Pirates are still out to acquire as much raw talent as possible then those two are their most valuable remaining chips. They won't get much back by renting Wilson or Sanchez to a team for a couple months. Hold on to your hats. They aren't done trading yet!

Ron Ieraci said...

Jeff and Will, some excellent points. Here's what I take from the deal:

They don't think the team can compete in the short term; I was hoping for a 2011 window, but I can't see it now unless a perfect storm erupts.

They are just stockpiling players, maybe hoping to turn them into chips down the road. They need a power bat, middle infielders, and a stud pitcher, but even with unloading Nady, Bay, and McLouth, didn't address those areas.

And Jeff, I've thought since last year that they want their own players; anybody in the organization that predates 2008 is fair game. They will trade away whoever they can for whatever they can get; I think 2010 is going to be a hard year.

I really don't think they grasp the attitude of the fan base, and that will bite them eventually, if it hasn't already.

Will, I probably wouldn't have made that trade; I'm not so much defending it as justifying it. Personally, I'd have moved Morgan while he was worth something to clear McCutch's spot in the lineup.

But the bottom line is winning. If they turn it around, they're boy genuises; if they don't, well, Pittsburgh's seen a lot of suits come and go. And they'll go.

WilliamJPellas said...

Jeff mentioned Ryan Doumit and Paul Maholm as the Pirates' next most desireable assets after McLouth. I'd say that Doumit is actually a better player than McLouth, relative to his position. In other words, that Doumit is higher above his peer group at catcher than Nate is in the outfield, but both are good ballplayers. Anyway, if it were up to me, and if we were talking about dealing one of our young, homegrown veterans, for my money it would be Doumit and not McLouth.

The Pirates actually have a surplus at catcher. Jason Jaramillo and Robinzon Diaz have filled in exceptionally well in Doumit's absence. While Ryan is unquestionably an elite offensive talent (for a catcher), he just can't stay healthy and apparently that's all there is to it. I for one could certainly live with a Jaramillo-Diaz tandem for the next couple of years while we sort everything out. For my money Diaz is the more likely starter in the long term, but Jaramillo is just fine as a 200-250 at bat platoon starter. With both of them being young, to boot, I'd have explored trading Doumit, to be honest, even though I like him and he gets added points for being a homegrown Pirate.

I don't see Maholm leaving town until the 2012 season at the earliest. His contract is too reasonable and our pitching is too iffy, and he's still pretty young. Methinks the grand plan is to have him lead the way for the next wave of starters coming up from the minors, ie, Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, and (presumably) Charlie Morton. Throw in Ross Ohlendorf, and that is certainly the makings of a very good rotation.

Look, I realize what the Pirates are doing, and I never said Nate was or ought to be untouchable. But I'd have dealt Doumit before I'd even think about moving McLouth. But, what's done is done, and we do have more depth, which is not a bad thing. Just remember: not even the Florida Marlins, in the depths of their worst fire sales, not even THEY traded ALL of their young veterans when they gutted the team. Last time around they kept Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. That worked out okay!

I agree that Freddy will be dealt, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's traded as a third baseman rather than as a second baseman. If his shoulder can hold up, I think that's his best position, anyway. Seems to me that the Twins have had a hole at 3B for, like, forever; Milwaukee is starting a rookie at third, and they still have Bill Hall, but I think Freddy would still be a great fit for them. Dunno that the Bucs would trade him within the division, though. If Jack is back after this season, it will be for one more year at most, and that at a discount.

Ron Ieraci said...

Will, I'll be surprised if any of the current starters outside of Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen will be on the field in 2011.

I agree that the pitching is a different matter, but it's quite possible only Maholm and Duke will be left of the rotation as it now exists.