What is Nate McLouth worth?

That’s an anecdotal question at this point, because Neal Huntington has set his value at Craig Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke. The question that remains: is that enough? McLouth is signed reasonably through 2011 and the Pirates didn’t get Tommy Hanson or Jason Heyward in this deal, so immediately, Pirate fans are going to hate it. I can feel the hateful venom pouring out of Pittsburgh as I type this, but is it justified? Should the Pirates care?

Here’s what the Pirates traded: a 27-year-old centerfielder with pretty decent power and a .350 OBP. Those are measurables. His defense is pretty hotly contested among Pirate fans, but if Neal Huntington’s going around quoting UZR to the press, I doubt the Pirates thought highly of him in that capacity and it’s not likely that a lot of front offices did, either. He is a great base runner, but that’s even harder to quantify than defense. Nate McLouth is a great player on the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he’s only a good player everywhere else. PECOTA only projected him for 21 homers this year. If he drops even five homers like that projection suggests, I think to a lot of people, 2008 becomes somewhat of a fluke and McLouth’s trade value drops.

Remember, too, that lots of teams have been interested in McLouth in the past six months or so. I’m guessing a lot of teams made calls to Huntington trying to suggest that McLouth was a complete fluke and he should sell while his value is still high. None of those deals took place, so that suggests (at least to me) that Huntington really likes the package he pulled in from Atlanta tonight. It continues in the direction that the deals last year took the Pirates; it immediately creates more pitching depth at the big league level with Morton and it keeps restacking a depleted minor league system with Hernandez and Locke.

If you’re still not buying in to this trade, let me ask you a question. What do you think Freddy Sanchez is worth in a trade right now? And what do you think he would’ve been worth after his 2006 season? Remember Craig Wilson? What do you think he would’ve been worth in 2004? And we got who for him in 2006? Shawn Chacon. A player like McLouth, who breaks out later in his career, is always going to have diminishing value as you move away from that breakout. The Pirates got two good prospects and a third potentially useful player for him. That’s not an insignificant haul, even if it doesn’t include any of the Braves top prospects.

This is certainly a tough pill to swallow as a fan. It sucks to see good players come to Pittsburgh and leave before they win anything. But Huntington and Coonelly have brought a ton of good talent into the system in the past two years, and this trade tonight continues that trend. Just remember where things were when Huntington took over (Andrew McCutchen as the top prospect then Steve Pearce and Neil Walker as the next two) and think about where they are right now with McCutchen, Alvarez, Tabata, Grossman, Morris, Hernandez, Locke, a few other picks from last year, and whoever we draft this year. That’s a HUGE improvement. So the Pirates won’t finish .500 this year. We knew that would happen. And they’ll have the worst losing streak in baseball history. We knew that would happen, too. Both of these things would’ve happened with McLouth. But trading him now, well, it’s all part of the necessary process to stop the losing at some point in the future. As a fan of a team in the position the Pirates are in right now, I’d much rather have a GM focused on the future rather than the present.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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