The Pittsburgh Pirates have been the laughing stock of the NL Central for the better part of two decades now – basically since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla got away to free agency in the early-mid 1990s. Since then, the Pirates have suffered losing season after losing season, alienated their once-loyal fanbase, and generally just gone about doing things in a way that gives fans little reason to feel hopeful about the future. The Pirates latest move was to trade promising young slugger Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves. McLouth is coming off his best season in the Bigs, having hit 26 HRs last season while batting a healthy .276. The 27-year old outfielder had 9 HRs early this season and was slugging at nearly .500. It’s hard to explain trading away a promising young All Star and Gold Glover player like that in his prime, particularly when the Pirates don’t seem to be at a huge loss for young starting pitching. In these still uncertain economic times though, don’t interpret this move as anything other than a financial decision. The Buccos save money in the immediate and intermediate by dumping McLouth, and judging by attendance at PNC Park and across the MLB landscape, that extra scratch could come in handy in the forthcoming months and years.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington joined FOX 970 in Pittsburgh to talk about the controversial trade of McLouth for prospects Jeff Locke, Charlie Mortin and Gorkys Hernandez, as well as about the email he wrote to Pirates season ticket holders. McLouth, on the other hand, joined 680 The Fan in Atlanta to tell his side of the story and to express his excitement about being in a tradition rich baseball town like Atlanta.
Huntington on what he’d say to those who think this move typifies the Pirates commitment towards building a winning team:
“It was an absolutely difficult decision. I would differ with you a little bit. Charlie Morton is getting a lot of attention as a possible fifth starter because his overall minor league track record is just ok and he struggled a little bit in the 12 starts in the Big Leagues last year. But you go back through history and there’s some pretty good ones who’ve struggled at their first taste of the Big League level. And Charlie’s went from being a heralded prospect to a scuffling and something clicked with him whether it was a mechanical adjustment or maturation, but he dominated AAA for about half of the year last year and thus far this year he’s pitched extremely well down there. So, uh, Charlie is kind of getting written off as an afterthought in this deal and really all three guys have pretty strong value for us. But getting back to the trade itself, it was not easy. Nate’s an extremely quality person, he’s a good baseball player, and if we were where we believe we’re getting close to being, Nate, like Jason Bay, is the type of player that you’d like to build around. The type of person you’d like to build around. Because they’re stable people, they’re good people, they’re good players and they’re heading in to the primes of their careers…But the reality is, if you study the good teams – simply stated, the good teams have more good players, and they certainly have more great players than the bad teams. And where we need to get ourselves is we need to give ourselves more chances to have good players…”
Huntington on how the trade went down:
“We weren’t shopping Nate. The Braves came to us.”
“We had intense conversations with them last summer about a number of different scenarios; we had intense conversations about a number of different scenarios this offseason; we knew their system well from the coverage of last summer; we knew their system well from the coverage of early this spring. The other teams that we knew had interest in Nate – as we compared what could be on the table, players that had already been ruled out in situations in the offseason, even the Braves players that they ruled out this year – we did feel like this was going to be the best package available and it’s easy to criticize why you didn’t get this guy or that guy and the obvious answer is they weren’t available. And it became a situation where it’s a sellers market right now because there’s a number of teams that still believe they’re in it, they still believe they have a chance to win. And as you get closer to July, more and more teams begin to fade. More and more teams become sellers…so you lose the ability to get this type of deal.”
McLouth on whether he was shocked by the trade:
“For me, it was such a shock. You know, I’m happy to be here and I think it’s a great opportunity and I’m excited to make this team better. But the timing and just the fact that I had no idea what was coming was, it was just very surprising.”
McLouth on how tough it was to be on such a perennial loser like the Pirates:
“It is, it is. And there’s a lot of negativity from the fans and rightfully so, because it has been a long time since they’ve won there. It’s kind of, in that regards, a breathe of fresh air to come over to an organization that’s known for winning.”