By the conclusion of the trade deadline at 4 pm yesterday, the Pirates had acquired two players to help bolster an otherwise putrid lineup. No, not Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran, but two veterans whose careers are coming to an end in the upcoming years. Nevertheless, the Pirates did do exactly what they said they were going to do: acquire players to help the team make a playoff push without giving away their future.
Unfortunately, running a franchise that hasn't won in eighteen years will create a large contingent of fans who will distrust their decisions, regardless of the fact that they've only been in office for three years, or the fact that they've been assistants to teams that have won the same way they are trying to win here. Many Pirates fans are still disappointed GM Neal Huntington did not acquire Hunter Pence (even if the Phillies gave up their top pithcing prospects among three other players) or Carlos Beltran (who refused to come here). Still, all will be forgotten if Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick come out swinging in black and gold.
The day before the trade deadline, the Pirates acquired first baseman Derrek Lee from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Aaron Baker. As long as he doesn't break down, the Derrek Lee trade is already an excellent one for one simple reason. It most assuredly kicks Lyle Overbay to the curb after over half a season of Jeromy Burnitz-type production. Although everyone is looking at Lee's offense as a source of contribution, Lee's defense alone could help the Pirates down the stretch. In his career, Lee was given the Gold Glove award three times and his 6'5 frame will give the infielders a little more room to make inaccurate throws to first.
As for the offense, Lee is known as a second half player and unlike Overbay who carried the same trend but failed to perform, Lee is starting to heat up hitting, .298 3 home runs and .906 OPS since the All Star Break. He may not finish the year with 46 home runs as he did in 2005, but he will certainly provide the lineup with offense at a position that has lacked help all year. Turning 36 in September and a free agent after this season, Lee will most likely go back to the free agency pool if he decides not to retire.
As for the piece to get Lee, Aaron Baker was a first baseman playing for the West Virginia Power. With 15 home runs, giving up Baker for a rental seems questionable. With the emergence of Matt Hague, Matt Curry and Alex Dickerson however, Baker was situated so far behind those aforementioned players, that he would never have a chance to get to Pittsburgh.
Ryan Ludwick heard his name going to about five different teams over the course of the week but within the final hour of the deadline, he was a Pittsburgh Pirate. Ludwick was not the first choice by the Pirates but since the Minnesota Twins are stuck in their hard-headed beliefs that they will win the AL Central this year and decided not to trade Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel, the Bucs were forced to look elsewhere. The Pirates dealt a PTBNL and took Ludwick to help a beat up outfield that has lost Jose Tabata and Alex Presley for at least a few more weeks. Ludwick, an ex-Cardinal, is struggling for his second straight season hitting .238 with only 11 home runs. The hope is that he will return to form when he stops hitting at Petco Park and if he does, the Pirates could have a serious shot to make a run. My guess is that he will hit a little better at PNC but not enough to make a huge impact. When Tabata and Presley come back I would assume Ludwick will platoon in right field with Presley as a right handed hitter.
Whether or not you agree with the moves, you have to agree GM Neal Huntington made an effort to bolster the lineup. Many may think the front office was too lazy to make a deal earlier in the week but the facts point to a strong sellers market. Don't believe me? Look at all of the deals for better players and ask if the return helped the buyer or seller more. The Indians gave up two future front line starters for Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher who may be hurt and has struggled since the 2010 All Star Break. The Giants gave up their top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, for Carlos Beltran which seems like an even trade until you look at the Giants' rotation and notice three potential Cy Young winners already playing for San Fransisco. As I said in a previous post, the biggest expense for the Pirates is their top prospects. With a noticeable distance in talent between the Pirates and the Phillies, as displayed this weekend, the front office knew they had to be smart because their time to win a World Series is not now.
A National League Central Division title? We'll see.