It's 1 AM and I'm frantically trying to get things packed up and put together for a drive back to Western PA for Thanksgiving tomorrow, but I promised some more words on Jaff Decker and Garrett Jones and the like, dammit, and so you're going to get those words whether you want to read them or not.
At a glance, Jaff Decker and Alex Dickerson are awfully similar players. Decker is 23 years old and in six years of minor league baseball, he's hit .268/.402/.456 with his best numbers coming in the low minors and in Triple-A last year, with Tucson in the PCL League. In 105 games with Tucson, Decker hit .286/.381/.443 with 10 homers and 23 doubles Dickerson is also 23, with 2+ years of minor league ball to his name (the difference, of course, is that Dickerson went to college while Decker was a high school draftee). In those three years, he's hit .295/.352/.475. Dickerson had a pretty good year with Double-A Altoona in 2013, hitting .288/.337/.494 with 36 doubles and 17 homers in 126 games.
In summary, Decker's minor league numbers are a bit better, but one of his good years was in the California League, which I think is similar to playing baseball on the moon in terms of a hitting environment. Another was in the PCL, which is hitter-friendlier than the Triple-A counterpart International League. It also seems like Decker has a bit more plate patience and Dickerson has a bit more pop, though I think the jury's still out on Dickerson's pop since it's relatively early in his career (it probably is on Decker, too, because he's only 23 and home run power tends to develop last).
What all this means is that if you're looking at offensive numbers alone, the choice between Decker and Dickerson comes down to how much value you put on plate patience for minor leaguers. It's good to know that a guy can take a walk, but it's not necessarily a great sign to see a .400 OBP coupled with a .270 batting average for a minor leaguer, because it can also signal passiveness at the plate. You may or may not remember Evan Chambers, who is/was an extreme example of this. I want to be clear: I'm not saying that Decker is a passive hitter and that that's going to give him trouble at the big league level, I'm saying that you have to consider that he might be when you see that batting average/OBP split for a relatively young minor leaguer.
Evaluating this trade also depends on how you view first base "prospects," because that's what Dickerson is even though he's played mostly outfield the last two years. In general, first base is a last-resort position where you stick a great hitter because you need his bat and he can't play anywhere else in the field. Dickerson's considered a first base prospect because he had back problems in college and it's not clear that he'll be an effective big league outfielder, but to this point he hasn't really had the bat of a first baseman. He's had the bat of a guy that you might use to pick up a platoon in right field for part of a season while you wait for Gregory Polanco.
In the end, I think that's probably what this swap comes down to. One need that the Pirates need to address for 2014 is what to do in right field, and Decker is a little more mature of a player than Dickerson. That means that he can compete with Travis Snider for the big end of the right field platoon in spring training. It's probably not crazy to guess that the Pirates' like Decker's plate approach compared to Dickerson's, that they didn't view Dickerson as a viable big league first baseman long-term, and that they figured that swapping Dickerson and Decker was more or less a wash on the overall talent side of things that fits the Pirates a little bit better in the immediate future. That the Padres are also sending along Miles Mikolas (you'll never believe this: he's a tall, hard-throwing right-handed reliever that gets lots of ground balls) probably didn't hurt things.
The fallout from this move is the end of Garrett Jones's Pirate career. As I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the trade, this was inevitable. Had the Pirates taken him to arbitration, his salary would've gone north of $5 million in 2014. Since 2010, Jones has had one really useful year for the Pirates (that'd be 2012) and three seasons of more or less replacement level baseball. Paying him that kind of money is something teams like the Pirates' just can't do, and so even though letting him go temporarily leaves the Pirates without a first baseman, it had to be done. That being said, I want to take a second and tip my cap to Garrett Jones for his Pirate career. His 2009 season was amazing and if it'd happened for a team like the Yankees or the Red Sox, they'd still be talking about it 25 years from now. Jones came from the very bottom of the scrap heap to hit 21 homers and slug .567 in 82 games, finishing seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting despite being a 28-year old nobody playing for a 99-loss Pirate team. If you remember Spring Training of that year, a few people were making a big deal about Jones and his incredible batting practice displays and I was waving them off as ridiculous because of his minor league career up to that point. Jones proved me wrong in dramatic fashion. It's easy to look at numbers and trends and jump to conclusions about players, but there are always Garrett Joneses out there, waiting for a chance. If you would've told me in the spring of 2009 that Garrett Jones would be a member for the first Pirate playoff team in a generation in 2013, I would've laughed. As always when it comes to things like this, I'm happy to admit I was wrong.
In any case, the Pirates have been awfully quiet so far this winter, but I think that we can take Jones's DFA as a sign that they won't stay that way. I don't know what the Bucs have in mind, exactly, but I doubt that they're planning on playing Gaby Sanchez at first base every day in 2014. There are certainly more moves coming in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.