A Review Of The Pirates' Busy Day: Are They Winners Or Losers?

Nathaniel StoltzSenior Analyst IJune 30, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 10: Outfielder Lastings Milledge #85 of Washington Nationals bats against the Atlanta Braves April 10, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

It was quite the day for the Pittsburgh Pirates today, as they traded away three players and received four in return.

Did this help the organization?

The Pirates sent left fielder Nyjer Morgan and left-handed reliever Sean Burnett to the Nationals, and traded away utility-man Eric Hinske to the Yankees. In return, Pittsburgh received outfielder Lastings Milledge and right-handed reliever Joel Hanrahan from Washington, and right-handed reliever Casey Erickson and catcher/outfielder Eric Fryer from New York.

So if we look at this as a three-player for four-player swap, the Pirates won on three fronts: they acquired the best player, they acquired the most players, and they saved money.

Morgan is a fun little speedster who is a big asset as a backup. Unfortunately, he did not fit well on the Pirates with Andrew McCutchen, who is firmly entrenched in center. This forced Morgan to left field.

As a left fielder, Morgan is excellent defensively, but his complete lack of power means he's well below-average offensively. Morgan's about to turn 29 years old, so he's in the middle of his prime. The Pirates did a good job by selling high and getting rid of a player they didn't need.

Hinske has the skills to be a decent everyday player but he can't seem to get all of them to show up in one year. Last year, he was a power guy. This year, he's an OBP guy. The Pirates, a rebuilding team, had no use for Hinske, and they at least got some value for him.

Burnett has a FIP (4.50) much higher than his ERA (3.06). What's scary is that he might now be the best pitcher in the Nationals' bullpen. At 26 years old, Burnett may improve some, but he's really best used for situational relief. Without a blazing fastball—his clocks in at just under 90 mph—Burnett may be as good as he's ever going to get.

Milledge is the best player in the deal. I've never really been a fan of his, but with top-of-the-line speed, above-average power, and good center field defense, Milledge has the tools to succeed.

Offensively, he can hit for an okay average and good power, and he's as good defensively and on the bases as Morgan. At 24 years old, Milledge also has more room for improvement than anyone the Pirates gave away.

Trading the three players for Milledge straight up would have been fair, but the Pirates managed to get Hanrahan, Erickson, and Fryer as well.

Hanrahan's acquisition continues the pattern of selling high and buying low. The righty has a 3.56 FIP but has been horribly unlucky (.451 BABIP, 61.5% strand rate), and thus has a nightmarish 7.71 ERA.

Hanrahan's actually been better this year than he was last year, but his awful luck disguises his improvements. While Hanrahan is a year older than Burnett and his excellent stuff could play better as he improves his command.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington also bought low on the two Yankees prospects. Before today, I hadn't heard of Erickson, a 23-year-old Single-A swingman. After doing some research, I found out that Erickson is noteworthy because of his ground-ball percentage, which is a whopping 66.0%.

His high-80's sinker and low-80's slider are both extremely difficult to lift. He hasn't allowed a homer in 44 innings this year. At his age, Erickson is more project than prospect, but there are plenty of quality big league relievers with his stuff.

Then there's Fryer, another buy-low guy, who had a big year last year in the Brewers organization—.335/.407/.506 in Low-A—but struggled after a trade to New York this year—.250/.333/.344 in High-A.

Fryer is a five-tool guy who could be a .300/.360/.470 hitter with 20 steals/season in the majors. If he can stay at catcher, he could be the next Russell Martin. If not, he'll be an average left or right fielder. Obviously, the 23-year-old will need to recapture his 2008 ability, but he shown very good things in the past.

So let's recap:

The Pirates acquired the best player in the deal, Lastings Milledge. To get Milledge, all they had to do was trade away Nyjer Morgan, who is like Milledge except he's five years older, makes more contact, and has less power.

On the side, the Pirates traded Sean Burnett, a 26-year-old who seems close to maxed out at a 4.50 FIP, for Joel Hanrahan, a 27-year-old whose 3.56 FIP could improve as he harnesses his electric stuff.

On top of that, this rebuilding team traded a useless veteran (Hinske) and his salary for an extreme ground-ball guy who could have a future (Erickson) and a minor league hitter with significant risk but All-Star potential (Fryer).

Be happy, Pirates fans. Whether your team beats the Cubs tonight or not, they definitely won today.