There is little disputing the fact that the Atlanta Braves have had one of the worst outfields in the major leagues. When Matt Diaz’ .813 OPS is the best of the outfielders, you’re in trouble. But when the best OPS of the regular starters is .668, then it’s borderline ugly. So, in an early trade of this magnitude, GM Frank Wren struck quickly to nab Pittsburgh Pirates center-fielder Nate McLouth. In exchange, Wren sent pitchers Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to the Bucs.
McLouth was an All-Star in 2008 and also won a Gold Glove last season. Once he joins the roster, McLouth will lead the Braves with nine home runs, nearly twice that of the current leaders (Escobar, McCann, Johnson, and Jones with 5). He’ll also have the team lead in RBIs with 34. With the offense not completely centered around him, as it was in Pittsburgh, McLouth may even return to the .853 OPS that he had last season. Topping it off, he’s signed rather cheaply over the next three seasons, with a decent option for 2012.
There are two issues about McLouth though. His Gold Glove was mostly made on his fielding percentage, there is a feeling that he’s not that great of a center-fielder. That may be resolved though ifstarts to hit and is called back up to play centerfield. Also, he is yet another lefty bat in an already left-handed heavy lineup. Kelly Johnson, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Casey Kotchman, and Garret Anderson all bat left-handed.
In return, the Pirates received three interesting players. Righty Charlie Morton has a mid-90’s fastball, slider, decent curve, and a changeup. But he has confidence and control issues. He’s off to a 7-2 start with a 2.51 ERA over 64.2 innings at Triple-A.
Lefty Jeff Locke has always been highly touted, but except for a good 2007 in rookie league, has yet to really live up to the billing. Since going 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA in rookie ball in 2007, Locke has seen his K/BB ratio drop from 9.25 to 1.65. What’s worse is he’s not even in Double-A yet. So far this season he’s 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA in 10 starts.
Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez is a burner. The speedy outfielder had 54 stolen bases in A-ball in 2007. Right now he’s hitting .317 with a .361 OBP. Although he’s light on power, his OBP has improved over the past couple seasons, signaling that he could end up being a decent lead off hitter. Gorkys still needs to draw more walks to succeed in that role in the majors though.
The trade also opens the doors for the Pirates’ #2 prospect,, to play center in the majors. He’ll be a great defensive outfielder and an eventual 25HR/25SB threat.
I have already seen a couple experts say this was a slight win for the Pirates, but I favor the Braves in this deal. McLouth was a cheap 30 HR bat that would’ve been heavily fought over at the deadline if he was dangled more. Sure, Morton could have turned himself around, Locke is still young and developing, and Hernandez may eventually become a stud at the top of the Pirates lineup. But it is doubtful that all three will do that and none of them will be the star that McLouth was. GM Neal Huntington should have gotten at least one top prospect for him.
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