Some thoughts on the Ike Davis/Zack Thornton trade

I didn’t get to see any of the Pirates and Brewers tonight, so I’m not going to spend any time recapping it; they left guys on base, Charlie Morton was frustrating, he gave up another homer to a righty, someone hit the cover off of the ball, and the Pirates lost. I’ll talk more about Charlie Morton as his next start approaches. Since the Ike Davis trade is what I suspect people will really be talking about, that’s what I’m going to focus on tonight. 

Let’s not pull any punches: this is a weird trade. Baseball trades don’t happen in early April all that often; they happen in the winter, they happen late in spring training, they happen later in the summer as the trade deadline approaches, but they don’t really happen in April. The Pirates have been looking for a first baseman for a while and the Mets have been shopping Ike Davis for a while, but it seemed like a logical conclusion that both sides had decided to let a couple of months of baseball happen before making a trade when no trade was made before Opening Day.

Instead, not even three weeks into the season, the Mets send Davis to the Pirates for Zack Thornton and a player to be named later. There has been some speculation that the timing indicates that the PTBNL could be someone from last year’s draft (not Reese McGuire or Austin Meadows, obviously), and honestly, that’s almost the only way that this deal makes sense for the Mets to me. Thornton put up some huge numbers in the minors last year, but he did it as a reliever. He was available to the Mets and literally to any other team in baseball as a Rule 5 pick over the winter, and no one was interested in him. It seems crazy that suddenly now the Mets would want to build a trade around a guy like him if they were unwilling to do so a few weeks ago.

Whoever the PTBNL ends up being, he’s not terribly likely to be a hugely significant prospect at this point. Let’s focus on Davis. My gut reaction here is that he’s a somewhat younger and more interesting version of Garrett Jones. He just turned 27 in March, and he was a first round pick by the Mets in 2008. He had a pretty solid rookie season with the Mets in 2010 (.264/.351/.440 with 19 homers and 33 doubles in 147 games, but in a different league-wide offensive environment), but he missed most of 2011 with an ankle injury. He hit 32 homers in 2012, but in Pedro Alvarez fashion (.227/.308/.462 with 141 strikeouts and 61 walks in 156 games). He struggled a lot last year, lost his starting job to Lucas Duda in camp, and now has been traded to the Pirates for a minor league reliever and a player to be named.

Davis’s main appeal to the Pirates at this point is that he can hit right-handed pitching. His career line against righties is .256/.357/.471 and even in his struggles last year he hit a borderline-acceptable .222/.356/.371 against them. If he can move even a little bit from last year’s line towards his career split, that makes him a better option against righties than either Gaby Sanchez or Travis Ishikawa at first base.

Davis obviously isn’t a slam-dunk acquisition here. He’s had a few significant injuries to this point his career (the ankle injury in 2011 and an oblique problem last year), and he doesn’t hit for average at all. As a hitter he’s almost like a less reliable Pedro Alvarez (please, think about this for a second). Still, the pedigree, the platoon split, the trade price, and the actual monetary price (he’s making $3.5 million this year with two years of arbitration left) certainly seem to make this a worthwhile acquisition. I don’t think that Davis is necessarily a cure-all at first base, but Gaby Sanchez is a good enough option against lefties that the Pirates don’t necessarily need a cure-all. It’s easy to see how Davis can make them better, and that’s good enough for now.

Image credit: Nathan Borror, Flickr

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.