Posted by: Captain Easychord | July 23, 2009

Pirates Thursday: Goodbye To All That

The Pirates stormed out of the All-Star break this week with two big series wins over teams with winning records.  Nevertheless, the big story of the past week was a pair of notable endings for the Bucs.

In a season notable for losing streaks numbering 17, the Pirates ended a franchise record for futility against a single team by finally a W against the Brewers for the first time in 18 tries.  During the victory, a minor fracas broke out involving Jeff Karstens, Jason Kendall and “Dave Kurwin” (Kurwin?  Kerwin?  Kirwin?  Can we ever really know?) after Karstens was hit by a pitch in retaliation for hitting Ryan Braun back in April (5 games ago, in the series).  With the bad blood running close to the surface and long memories clearly in play, it’s not hard to wonder if ending the losing streak didn’t beget something of a mean streak between the clubs.

The more prominent departure of the week came two days later when the Pirates shipped out Adam LaRoche in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers.  The Pirates acquired LaRoche in January 2007 as he was coming off a 32 HR, .915 OPS season.  Since he was about to enter his prime years, it wasn’t hard to imagine LaRoche’s power numbers growing, especially with a left-handed swing targeting the short right field wall of PNC Park.  His new teammates were so optimistic that they jokingly referred to him as “The Savior.”

Some low rumblings coming out of Atlanta, however, suggested that LaRoche wasn’t mentally capable of being “the guy” and that he was better suited as a complementary player hitting lower in the lineup.  Sure enough, LaRoche’s career splits show that he hits better with nearly every spot he drops in the lineup.  Pirates fans are also well-versed in his pre- and post-All-Star Break splits, which have greatly favored the latter half of the season when the Pirates are long since irrelevant.  Presumably, Theo Epstein might see LaRoche as a guy who might be likely to have more success hitting lower in the Red Sox lineup and doing so during the last two months of the season.

Against that backdrop, it’s easy to see how LaRoche has disappointed many Pirates fans.  While few appear to be sad to see him go, Peter Gammons did manage to cast the deal in a negative light for some by claiming that the trade was a salary dump.  While I’m still not convinced that Pirates ownership will spend money at the major league level to put a winner in Pittsburgh, I’m not really seeing this trade in the unfavorable way that Gammons apparently does.

First off, Adam LaRoche was set to be a free agent this coming offseason.  There was no way the Pirates were going to offer him arbitration and little chance that he would be re-signed.  LaRoche also wasn’t going to do much for the remainder of the 2009 campaign other than to take plate appearances from the likes of Steve Pearce, Brandon Moss, Delwyn Young or Lastings Milledge.  Ideally, the Pirates would be getting these guys as much playing time as possible to find out what they can do.

Furthermore, Adam LaRoche just hasn’t been very good.  Among qualifying first basemen, his 2009 OPS ranks 24th, behind fellow trading blocker Nick Johnson.  It wasn’t reasonable to expect any great return for him, and if the roughly $3 million saved is applied to signing bonuses for any of the Pirates’ several highly-touted draft picks with large bonus demands (such as Trent Stevenson, who signed today), the Bucs are probably adding a better prospect than they could hope to get from another club in the deal.

Of course, the Pirates did get a couple of prospects in return.  Argenis Diaz, a 22 year old all glove, no bat shortstop and Hunter Strickland, a 20 year old pitcher were both at AA in the Sox’ system.  Neither one is a top prospect, although they each offer some reason for optimism.  Given that the Pirates gave up little value and got some upside in the deal, I have to say that I like the trade quite a bit.

LAST WEEK: 4-2 (2-1 vs. SF, 2-1 vs. MIL)

Bucco of the Week: Garret Jones.  I really don’t mean to sound like a broken record here.  Paul Maholm had a shot at this if he could have put together a good start yesterday… maybe Ryan Doumit or Brandon Moss had things worked out a little differently… but as long as Garret Jones keeps wearing his Kevin Maas costume and having weeks where he goes .320/.393/.920 with 3 doubles and 4 HR (one of the walk-off variety), he’s probably going to keep winning this prestigious award.

NEXT WEEK:  4 @ ARI, 3 @ SF

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