Ken Rosenthal, just now:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 31, 2013
Rumors that the Pirates were interested in Morneau have been floating around for a while, and today is absolutely the last day to add players from outside the team that can be eligible for the playoffs, so obviously if it was going to happen it was going to happen today.
This is a pretty solid move by the Pirates; we've seen plenty of Alex Presley here in Pittsburgh to know that he's a fourth outfielder at best. On the Pirates he's maybe the fifth best outfielder when everyone is healthy, without even counting Gregory Polanco (I never really understood why Pirate fans disliked him so much; his rise to the Majors in any capacity after seemingly stalling out in High-A is a great story — I wish him only the best in Minnesota). Morneau will be a free agent as soon as this season ends, but the Pirates just aren't giving up much that they're going to miss in this deal. There is apparently also a second component to the trade, which is being reported as "a player to be named later or cash." I don't think there's much concern there; any time cash considerations might be an option, the player being discussed isn't terribly likely to be of consequence.
Morneau has been through quite a lot in the last couple of years to make it to the point where he was dumped off on a contender for Alex Presley at the last second before the playoff rosters need to be set. He was playing at an MVP level in 2009 before suffering a concussion, and he's quite honestly never gotten back to where he was before the injury. This year he's hitting .259/.315/.426 with 17 homers, which is basically a Garrett Jones statline. This is less of an upgrade, and more of a roll of the dice that Morneau can play at a higher level than Jones can down the stretch here. Nine of Morneau's homers have come in August, but he's coming off of an absolutely putrid July (.275/.266/.330), so it's possible that he's not offering the Pirates much at all here.
Still, I think that this is a gamble well worth taking. Last night aside, Jones hasn't really looked right at the plate all year. With rosters expanding tomorrow, the Pirates can keep Morneau, Jones, and Gaby Sanchez all dressed and on the roster and swap them in and out at first base as necessary. So long as Starling Marte is out, the Pirates can also use Jones in the outfield against righties occasionally to provide even more pop in the lineup. And like the Marlon Byrd trade, this has the hidden benefit of deepening the bench even further, as now it's possible the Pirates could have both Jones and Gaby Sanchez available to pinch hit, which is a lot different than having one or the other due to their extreme handedness splits.
In short: the Pirates might not be getting a huge upgrade here, but they're also not giving up much at all. They're tied for first place on August 31st, and in the last week they've added a few pieces that compliment the lineup that's built around Andrew McCutchen quite nicely. Basically, they're going for it without going for broke. It's a pretty great thing to see.