Don’t get me wrong about Nate McLouth. Great guy, hustles, works hard, busted his butt at an All-Star Game, better than anything the Braves had in their outfield before tonight’s trade.
I’m just not convinced Pittsburgh didn’t improve its line-up by replacing him with Andrew McCutchen.
McLouth’s explosive 367 at bats before his epic night in the Bronx? 19 homers, 65 RBI, .281.
His 346 at bats since August 1st of last year? 13 homers, 66 RBI, .261. And he is approaching his 28th birthday in October, the time at which the all-time graph of batters suggests improvements stop. The great hitters plateau at the peak. The others begin their descent. What you are seeing with McLouth is what you are likely to get henceforth: around 20 homers, around 20 steals, around a .270 batting average. Nothing to sneer at, but nothing to make Pirates’ fans believe that they have just had another Jason Bay or even Xavier Nady ripped from their bosom. Let us not forget that only a year ago, McLouth barely shook off Nyjer Morgan for the starting job, and the year before he lost a lot of playing time to Chris Duffy, for goodness sakes.
The key to this trade is that McLouth’s replacement does not come from it. McCutchen, who arrives in Pittsburgh as McLouth’s equal in speed and outfield skill, probably more than his equal for batting average, and eventually capable of producing 75% of his power, nearly made the majors out of spring training. The Pirates were sorely tempted to damn arbitration and take him north – that’s how authoritative a hitter he looked in Florida.
The worthiness of the trade depends on which Charlie Morton appears for Pittsburgh. The version Neal Huntington dreams of, dominated the International League last spring and this one. The other appeared as Atlanta’s starter fifteen times last year and could’ve been mistaken for a BP pitcher – but he was both hurt (back) and ill (weight loss). It should also not be assumed that the Braves think Morton is a washout – they have already seen sparks of interest caused by Kris Medlen, and are confident Tommy Hanson will shine as he steps into Medlen’s slot in the rotation on Saturday. The second pitcher in the deal, Jeff Locke, is an intriguing lefthander with a curve and control. If he and Morton both make it, the Pirates will have won the trade.
This is not to say Atlanta didn’t have to make it. McLouth not only fills a huge hole, but also takes enough pressure off Jordan Schafer that we might see the latter return this year, or at worst next, and force McLouth to either corner. McLouth might also serve as some sort of last-stab-in-the-dark at resuscitating the almost tragic Jeff Francoeur, before the Braves – do what? Sell him to a Korean League team?