First things first; I always thought Adam LaRoche kind of got a raw deal from the fans in Pittsburgh. Dave Littlefield essentially went out and added him to a 67-win team in 2007, then sold him to the fans as the guy that would put the team over the top. Most players in the league wouldn’t have put that team over the top, and the backlash against LaRoche was never fair. The fact that most Pirate fans only pay attention to the team in April and May hasn’t helped him either. I’ve always thought that LaRoche is a class act, and his exit interview with DK, along with his decision to stay on the bench after he got the news of the trade hasn’t done anything to diminish that.
That said, the Pirates had no choice but to trade the guy. He’s not the bat they need at first base and with his pending free agency, it’s better to trade him than to get nothing for him. There was no chance the Pirates were going to be able to offer him arbitration and pull in a compensation pick, either. LaRoche is making $7 million this year and offering him arbitration would ensure that he’d make at least that next year. I don’t think he’d get close to $7-8 million as a free agent, so he’d immediately accept and be back at far too great a price.
Of course, the Red Sox and everyone else in the league knows the same thing, and when coupled with LaRoche’s recent slump, well, the return for him wasn’t going to be overwhelming. You’ve probably heard by now that Argenis Diaz is a very good defender with a very bad bat. That’s lead a lot of people to assume that he’s going to have a career like Jack Wilson. Don’t fall into that trap. At the age of 22, Diaz is hitting a terrible .253/.309/.310 in Double-A this year, and it’s made worse by the fact that he’d spent a quarter season at the same level last year. He’s young enough that he might pull it all together, but I’d be much more inclined to compare him to Tony Pena Jr. than Jack Wilson right now.
The way the Pirates are handling Diaz is telling, too. They’re sending him to Triple-A because they want to keep Brian Friday at short in Altoona. My gut feeling here is that Diaz was acquired to plug the gap between Jack Wilson and whenever Friday/D’Arnaud/Mercer/Cunningham. With that being the case, they sent him to Triple-A figuring that if he’s not going to hit, it doesn’t matter where he plays. If he’s more than a stopgap, he’s either going to have improved dramatically or we’re going to round in on 20 straight losing seasons.
Hunter Strickland is a much more interesting pickup, if only because of his size. He’s got a middling fastball (I’ve seen it placed at 88-92), but he’s a big guy at 6’5″ and I’m guessing the Pirates hope that his arm grows into the rest of his body. If it does, he’d be quite a prospect because he seems to have great control. That’s certainly not a sure thing, but he’s at least worth keeping an eye on. The two players combined don’t make for a great haul, but I think they do represent about the best we could’ve expected in return for a player like LaRoche.
The corresponding move to recall only Steve Pearce is interesting. Lastings Milledge is killing the ball in Triple-A, and he doesn’t have much left to prove there. Still, the second he comes up, he becomes an every day player. It seems to me that the front office wants to give Pearce, Milledge, Brandon Moss, and Garrett Jones all a chance to play mostly every day and they’ve decided this is the best way to do it for now. I still don’t think Jones can keep hitting at a level near to the way he’s thumping now, but it’d be stupid to bench him until he cools off. Pearce certainly deserves a chance to get regular Major League at-bats before he’s written off entirely, and Moss’s OPS since May 12th is still around .850 (it was .840 before today) with four of his five home runs coming in July. I’d like to see Milledge with the Pirates, too, but I guess I can’t really complain about this arrangement for now.