Thursday, June 4, 2009
The Deal: The Pittsburgh Pirates send OF Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for CF Gorkys Hernandez (AA), LHP Jeff Locke (High-A), RHP Charlie Morton (AAA).
Braves: Entering June, the Atlanta Braves ranked in the bottom half of the league in every major hitting category. The main reason for the lack of offense in the Atlanta line-up has been the anemic performances by their outfielders. In over 550 AB's, Atlanta's top FOUR outfielders only managed to hit 10 home runs. Nate McLouth comes to the Braves with nine in 168 AB's. None of the Braves three starters had an OPS north of .700, which is unheard of in today's game. McLouth's OPS stands at .819 and was .853 last season when he was an All-Star. Another area where McLouth can help the Braves out is their running game. McLouth has been a perfect 7 for 7 in SB attempts, and is 64 of 69 for his career. McLouth was attractive to Atlanta because he's only 27 years old and is signed for the next three seasons. The Braves did pay a heavy price for three and a half years of McLouth. They parted with two of their top ten prospects according to Baseball America (subscription required to read the full scouting reports), in Hernandez and Locke. Atlanta also had to give up 25 year old pitcher Charlie Morton, who has gone 12-4 with an ERA under 2.50 over the past two seasons in AAA.
Pirates: Even though it seems that the Pirates traded away a young budding star for no immediate help to their major league team, I think Pittsburgh made the right move here. On the surface McLouth is a reigning All-Star and Gold Glover, but in reality he isn't too likely to attain those accolades again. McLouth's defense has been grossly overrated. He has a nice arm and decent range but his instincts are lacking. Most advanced defensive metrics rated him as a below average to very poor defensive center fielder. While McLouth is a good offensive center fielder, he's unlikely to enter the All-Star break with the numbers he had last season. McLouth was batting .281 with a .899 OPS and 19 home runs when he played in the midsummer classic. Another reason why McLouth was traded, was the emergence of Pittsburgh's top center field prospect Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen, who was the Pirates 1st round pick in 2005, was pushing for a promotion with his performance in AAA. With him on the way, McLouth would have needed to move to a corner outfield spot. While McLouth could have made the move to the corner, his .819 OPS isn't nearly as impressive at that position. Pretty much every team (except the Braves) has at least one corner outfielder with an .800+ OPS. The Pirates did a good job of selling high on McLouth. They got three quality young players in return. Hernandez has a bright future in CF and may one day push McCutchen to a corner spot. Locke has had some minor league struggles but at 21 years old has a bright future. Morton is a great third piece in this deal. He doesn't have the immense upside of the previous two, but he's major league ready. Morton at the very least could be a quality late inning bullpen arm, but will likely end up as a back of the rotation starter.
Winner: Braves are the immediate winner, but I think the Pirates get the long term benefit here. They traded a redundant player at the peak of his value for quantity and quality prospects. Its hard to argue with that. In addition the money that they save will go towards filling holes at positions of need, and acquiring more amateur talent.