Nate McLouth Is One of Many Pirate Moves

Brian WolffCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

BRADENTON, FL - MARCH 8:  Andrew McCutchen #76 of the Pittsburgh Pirates stands ready at bat during a Spring Training game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on March 8, 2007 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida. Pittsburgh won the game 5-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This Week

The Pirates have been making some moves lately, one big one at least, and a few not so big.

The most recent move is the huge one sending Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for three high-level prospects. A lot of people were surprised to see this move, but it makes a little bit of sense if the players turn out to be worthwhile in the long run.

What is frustrating about the move is perhaps what it says the Pirates think about their chances during this season.  Can this still be he year the Pirates turn things around or is it yet anoher year of just building for the future.

If the Pittsburgh can effectively replace McLouth's bat in the order, then the long-term advantages of getting the three prospects into the Pirates organization could be tremendous, and this could still be the turn-around year the Pirates fans are looking for.

For now, the move means the Bucs' No. 1 draft pick from 2005 will finally be called up, likely taking McLouth’s position in center, or seeing Nyjer Morgan slide over to center with Andrew McCutchen in left.

"We're excited about Andrew McCuthene, the opportunity that he's now going to get going forward.  Granted he may not replace Nate McLouth's bat in the middle of our lineup but he's going to step in and we believe play above average defense right away," said Neal Huntington, Pirates General Manager.

The 22-year-old McCutchen was hitting .303 with 10 doubles, eight triples, four home runs, 20 RBI, and 10 stolen bases with Indianapolis.

McCutchen was two-for-four with three runs and and RBI in his debut in center field for the Pirates in their win over the Mets on Thursday.

For the McLouth trade, the Pirates acquire three top-Braves prospects in outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, righty-pitcher Charlie Morton, and rookie south-paw pitcher Jeff Locke.

Hernandez is considered to be a strong prospect as a potential leadoff hitter with great base stealing ability. The 2007 Midwest League MVP was hitting .316 with 19 RBI, 11 doubles, and 10 stolen bases. Hernandez has been assigned to Double-A Altoona.

Morton is expected by some in the Pirates organization to be called up to take a spot in the starting rotation before the end of the year.  

"Charlie Morton is not too far away from helping our major league team if we have a need in the rotation," said Huntington.

The Pirates management already sees Morton as being ready for the majors, but for now he has been assigned to Indianapolis.

The righty throws a 95 mph fastball, as well as a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. This season he was leading the International League with seven wins and has an ERA of 2.51.

Last Week

The rough patch the Pirates hit a short time backeight game skidexposed for all to see some real weaknesses in their bullpen. Perhaps with this in mind the management made a couple of moves to acquire two pitchers out of the Yankees farm organization, pitchers that Joe Kerrigan knew something about.

The Pirates claimed right handed pitcher, Steven Jackson off waivers May 27, and assigned him to Triple-A Indianapolis, but the budding start did not stay there very long.

He was called up on Monday after four appearances in Indianapolis and was instrumental in the Pirates first win over the Mets this week, pitching one shutout inning in his debut.  He also pitched two innings of shutout ball in relief on Thursday and picked up his first major league win.

Second, the Pirates swapped minor league pitchers with the Yankees, picking up Eric Hacker, who had been designated for assignment by the Yankees who did not have room for him on their 40-man roster.

The Pirates send Romulo Sanchez in the deal.

Hacker was 1-2 with a 6.03 ERA and 20 strikeouts in six starts with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The former 23rd round draft pick was assigned to Indianapolis after the trade.

Hacker has very respectable career numbers and he could be a solid acquisition for the Pirates who give up very little in Sanchez.

Sparking rumors of possible further trading, the Pirates in a non-move have not extend the contracts of three starters, Jack Wilson, Adam LaRoche, and reliever John Grabow.

The 31-year-old Wilson certainly has a few years left him him and is a great asset on defense.  Having a Brian Bixler at shortstop is clearly not the same thing as Wilson and one has to wonder if economics are driving this decision.  

Wilson has offered to renegotiate his contract at a lower rate to continue playing for the Bucs, but he has not heard back from management.  The short stop is scheduled to make $8.4M next year.

LaRoche is hitting .243 with 23 RBIs and seven homers while earning $7.05M.  It is hard to know whether the Pirates might try to trade the first basemen with his brother holding down things at third.  Both the LaRoches are peforming well deffensively and their offensive numbers could be worse.  Having them together seems to make them each better.

The 30-year-old Grabow is making $2.3M with a 4.30 ERA in 23 innings this year and is not looking particularly stunning this year.

The Pirates could be trying to make room under their own market-imposed team salary cap with next weeks draft upcoming.  Economics is always a concern in the smaller markets who cannot simply buy a winning team.

Next Week

The Pirates are expected to make further waves in the upcoming first-year-player draft on June 9. The Pirates turned heads taking pitcher Pedro Alvarez last year, and the Pirates are expected to go for more pitching this year with the fourth pick in the draft, not necessarily worry about which agent represents the player.

Early on some thought the Pirates might go after USC shortstop Grant Green, but it has been reported lately that Pitching would be the focus again this year. Some pitcher's names being thrown around are 

Some possible pitchers are Aaron Crow, Alex White or Kyle Gibson or high school pitcher Jacob Turner.  If Dustin Ackley or Donovan Tate somehow drop to number four you might still see the Pirates for a hitter. 

Some teams are scared away by a prep player who is saying he will go to college.  The Pirates are not afraid to throw a high signing bonus at a high school player to persuade him to skip four years of college ball and start right away in the minors.

Building for the Future

The Pirates are making definite moves to build their organization, getting young, capable players through the draft, the waiver-wire and through trades. Whether the moves payoff, only time will tell.

The Pirates are getting some young talent into the organization; now they need to keep them long enough to make a difference in Pittsburgh.  

"We're certainly going to keep moving forward and compete every night but at the same time we need to continue to accumulate talent and accumulate good players, " said Huntington.

Building up the organization is absolutely the right way to go.  Still, for Pirates fans who have endured the departure of numerous solid players, all in the name of building, and have further endured too many consecutive losing season, the McLouth move has some faithful wondering.

For now it seems the organization will try to make the best of this year, but might be perfectly happy to accept a .500 year, and know that the future will be brighter.





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