The Pirates Haul

Earlier today, we talked about the Nate McLouth trade from the perspective of what McLouth should bring to Atlanta. He’s a good player and the Pirates offense will miss him. However, Neil Huntington didn’t just toss him off the ship, but felt this was a trade he had to make. Let’s look at what this deal does for Pittsburgh.

The main driver behind this deal wasn’t any of the prospects that Atlanta gave up, but instead, one that Pittsburgh already had. The Pirates top center field prospect and first round pick in 2005, Andrew McCutchen, had been cooling his heels in Triple-A waiting for a shot in the majors, and this deal opens up a full time job for the 22-year-old. A .300/.361/.493 line for Indianapolis helped convince the Pirates that he was ready for a big league role, and sure enough, he went 2 for 4 with a stolen base in his major league debut this afternoon.

McCutchen should be an upgrade over McLouth defensively, though there’s going to be a fairly significant offensive dropoff. That’s where the prospects come in – the Pirates are counting on the three players they got from Atlanta more than offsetting the switch from McLouth to McCutchen in center field.

The best of the bunch, for me, is LHP Jeff Locke. The 21-year-old lefty uses a 90-94 MPH sinking fastball to get both groundballs and strikeouts, and as we’ve talked about a lot here, pitchers who can do those two things are often very successful. Of course, pitchers who do both of those things often also have command problems, as the movement required to get grounders and swinging strikes also makes it hard to throw strikes consistently, and Locke is no exception. His 26 walks in 45 2/3 innings in High-A ball is a legitimate concern, and the lack of polish puts Locke at least two years from the majors.

The other pitcher in the deal, Charlie Morton, is closer to the majors but with quite a bit less upside. Like Locke, Morton throws a sinking fastball that gets groundball, but he lacks an outpitch and won’t rack up the same amount of swings and misses. His command has taken several steps forward in the last few years, though he still struggles to throw strikes to LHBs, so while he should be able to succeed as a strike throwing sinkerball guy, but he’s probably going to top out as a #5 starter and have trouble against line-ups stacked with opposite handed hitters.

Pittsburgh also got back an outfield prospect in the deal, as Gorkys Hernandez now finds himself in his third organization in three years. He’s an excellent athlete with terrific defensive skills, and brings terrific range to center field, which is good, because he’s probably not going to become much of a hitter. He’s not as projectable as most 21-year-olds due to his swing plane that drives the ball into the ground, which severely limits his power potential. He’s going to have to be a speedy leadoff type, but the successful hitters in that family make a lot of contact, and Hernandez does not. You can be a good hitter without power, and you can be a good hitter while striking out, but it’s almost impossible to be a good hitter without power if you also strike out a bunch.

In all, the Pirates got back one good upside arm who needs to straighten out his mechanics before he can help the big league team in 2-3 years and a couple of lower upside guys who profile as nice role players long term. Morton and Hernandez are more depth than core players, and while Locke could certainly win this trade for the Pirates on his own abilities, betting on 21-year-old A-ball pitchers is hardly ever a winning proposition.

For me, the Pirates didn’t get enough for McLouth. Getting McCutchen into the line-up is a nice perk, but that could have happened by letting him take playing time from Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss. If I’m giving up a +3 to +4 win 27-year-old signed to a terrific contract, I want back a little more than some guys who could fill out a roster and a pitcher who might be able to help me in 2012.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted

So, does this give us any indication of where the market for the M’s players (Bedard, Wash, Branyan…) might be?