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How Can the Pirates Keep Trading OFs?

Last week, the Pirates traded away an All-Star outfielder, sending Nate McLouth to the Braves for a panoply of prospects, though none are viewed as sure-fire major leaguers. Amazingly, McLouth is the third starting outfielder the Pirates have sent away in the past season, each of which was among the team's offensive leaders when he was sent to another team.

That raises an obvious question: How can the Pirates keep doing it, without the bottom falling out?

To a certain degree, that's a loaded question, because one could argue that the Pirates haven't been able to avoid having the bottom fall out last year or this year. The significance is that the bottom was already falling out when trades for Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were made last year, while this year the team hasn't completely abandoned its season goals and pursuits.

At least that's the alleged reason why many have been scratching their heads over the trade of McLouth. Why trade your most reliable hitter while you're in a push to finish above .500 for the first time in memory? Why get rid of a guy you just extended in the offseason for a pu pu platter of prospects, most of them pitchers, when pitching is the strongest thing the Pirates have going for them?

It's a mysterious decision that has been met with some derision, but at least one Pirates blog makes some strong cases for why it still makes sense. According to Bucs Dugout, part of the reason trading away Bay and Nady hasn't held down the team is because of vastly improved team defense, despite losing a ton of offensive value in terms of the Baseball Prospectus stat VORP (value over replacement player) when compared to the players the Pirates received in return.

Here's how it all breaks down: Essentially, the Pirates lost the equivalent of 31.4 runs by trading Bay, Nady and McLouth (reliever Damaso Marte actually has a negative VORP because of his struggles in New York). That's not a cripplingly high number, though it's still quite significant for a team that doesn't score a lot of runs.

The difference that's made up for that lost productivity is an improved defense. The team's pitching is allowing fewer line drives and increasing the number of ground balls, all of which makes for easier infield defense. Bucs Dugout credits much of Pittsburgh's improved defense -- their fielding efficiency is up at .697 from .675 a year ago, a marginal increase that seems insignificant until you track the ramifications of each additional error and failed put out. Magnify that by the team's lack of offensive support, and it's clear why a better defense is such a key cornerstone to Pittsburgh's success.

So, my question is: Do you buy it? Can defense really help the Pirates make up for losing three offensive stars in 12 months, on an already anemic team?

By Cameron Smith  |  June 8, 2009; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Pirates  | Tags: Braves, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Pirates, Xavier Nady, trade  
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It is not so much the wisdom of trading Bay and Nady. Maybe they had to do it. It is more the lack of a decent return for these all stars that has people questioning the Pirates. I'm not sure any of the pieces they received for Bay is contributing, and Ohlendorff and Karstens are roster filler (Tabata, I'll let the jury deliberate for a few years to see if he's more than NY hype). With McLouth, they could have unblocked McCutcheon and improved the defense even more had they moved McLouth to a corner OF spot rather than trade him. Instead, they got a middle reliever, a strikeout-prone, no pop CF who does not get on base and is blocked by McCutcheon, and a pretty good low minors arm (not elite, but not trash).

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | June 8, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

nationals have the same problem, the outfield they have doesn't play very good defense which hurts the pitching staff....Dunn, Dukes, Kearns, Harris et al may hit a bit, but they won't take you anywhere defensively....NL East is too good for this crew.

Posted by: outrbnksm | June 8, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Andy LaRoche is starting at third for the Bucs and he came in Bay deal. Moss is not a good player, Hansen looks like a bust unless his current nerve problem was what was causing his control problems and lack of stuff. Morris just had his first start at Lynchburg. I think Morton is a key to the McLouth deal although he appears to be the throw-in. The Bucs expect him to be in the rotation. If he really throws 94-97 consistently he'll have the best stuff on the team. Still these trades are gambles but the team was so devoid of talent that it needed to be jump started. Huntington's job will depend on how well these deals turn out.

Posted by: Pensfans | June 9, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

This was a great deal for Atlanta. McLouth quickly becomes their best OF on the team and they have him under a great contract for this year and the next two.

I applaud the Pirates for realizing that keeping McLouth for another two years is pointless because they're not going to be contending and they might as well strengthen their ranks overall, but they probably could have gotten more.

I'm waiting for Adam LaRoche to be traded, personally.

By the way, finishing over 500 is not a goal for a team. It may sound good, but unless you make the playoffs you're not making any more money. So if you're not going to make more money you might as well build your team up until you're ready to make a run for the playoffs and then cash the checks.

Posted by: adampschroeder | June 9, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

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