LaRoche leaves as conflicted as his performance

Pirates trade first baseman to Boston for shortstop, pitching prospects

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"Mixed emotions," Adam LaRoche called them, and he surely let that show.

Consider just this: As an active member of the Boston Red Sox roster yesterday afternoon, he sprinted toward PNC Park's home plate to celebrate Brandon Moss' walkoff home run that had just won the game for the Pirates. Who had just traded him to Boston.

"Those are my boys out there," LaRoche said. "And it was a great way to go out, with what Mossy did. I'll miss them."

The return for LaRoche, the Pirates' maddeningly inconsistent first baseman since 2007, was two prospects, shortstop Argenis Diaz and pitcher Hunter Strickland. No cash was exchanged, so Boston will pick up the rest of LaRoche's $7.05 million salary, which is $2.95 million.

The Pirates and Red Sox had been quietly discussing LaRoche since the spring, both sides confirmed yesterday, and agreement on a trade came together early yesterday morning. The Pirates had one other team -- it is not known which -- that had made an offer for LaRoche, and it came with an expiration, so they urged Boston to move swiftly.

Once the agreement was in place, though, getting clearance from Major League Baseball took longer than usual, which was why the Pirates waited until 45 minutes before their 12:35 p.m. first pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers to post their lineup. And why LaRoche was in full uniform in the dugout until the sixth inning, when general manager Neal Huntington called him out to inform him.

"It was no fun," Huntington said. "Adam is the consummate professional."

LaRoche had ample cause to feel mixed.

On one hand, he is going to a contender, something not seen in Pittsburgh since 1992.

"It's something I've missed here," LaRoche said. "I was lucky enough in Atlanta to play meaningful ball down the stretch and in the playoffs. And yeah, it would have been nice to do that here with everything that's happened here the past 17 years. When this club does get turned around, it's going to be unreal here."

On the other, LaRoche is leaving his younger brother, Andy, the Pirates' third baseman acquired in a trade last August.

"I said before that I would do anything to have a chance to play with Andy, even for a game," Adam said. "To be able to do it for basically a full season now is something I'll never forget."

"For our family and everything, it was great," Andy said. "Not having Adam now, it's not going to affect how I play, though. Just off the field, it's going to be different not having him around to joke around with."

Of Adam staying in the dugout yesterday, Andy added: "That's the kind of guy he is. He hung around with us because he's a guy who's loyal, and I'm not just saying that because he's my brother."

Adam LaRoche expressed one other negative about leaving, with a typically candid assessment of his performance with the Pirates: He batted .265 with 58 home runs over 2 1/2 seasons, never higher than .272, never more than 25 home runs. His struggles usually were confined to the first two months, but his numbers this season -- .247, 12 home runs, 40 RBIs -- including a .167 average this month, with three RBIs.

"It's disappointing to me that I couldn't do more," LaRoche said. "That's the only thing I'll regret from my time in Pittsburgh, not being able to do what I think I'm capable of doing and not being able to put it together over a six-month season. I still had a blast here, and my wife and kids loved it."

When LaRoche was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for closer Mike Gonzalez in early 2007, the public welcomed him enthusiastically, primarily because his left-handed power was supposed to take advantage of the Clemente Wall in right field. But that never materialized, and the lack of numbers, along with LaRoche's relaxed body language, soured many.

"People didn't always like the way Adam moved, but he plays the game with passion," Huntington said. "I can't say why exactly it didn't work out here, why there were the long slumps, but I know he was very popular within this team."

"He was a stand-up guy," Pirates manager John Russell said. "A great leader."

That was echoed throughout the clubhouse afterward, albeit with precious little of the complaining that followed other recent trades.

"You can't replace a guy like that," catcher Ryan Doumit said. "He's a tremendous teammate, and we're going to miss him."

Neither of the two prospects acquired from Boston were among that system's top 10, as ranked by Baseball America. Diaz was No. 17, and Strickland did not make the list of 30.

That suggests that trading LaRoche had more to do with moving his salary and getting a return before he could become a free agent this winter, but Huntington sounded optimistic about both prospects.

"We very much like the return we got," Huntington said. "We feel this was a good baseball trade."

Theo Epstein, Boston's general manager, described giving up Diaz and Strickland as "a very reasonable acquisition cost."

Diaz, 22, was batting .253 for Class AA Portland, with 14 doubles, no home runs and 24 RBIs. His career average is .273, and the power output has been minimal throughout. But Diaz's defensive abilities have been graded "plus-plus" on the scouting scale, which means excellent, even if his 23 errors show that he often botches the routine play.

"Diaz has some work to do with the bat, but we love his defense," Huntington said. "Right away, he's the best defensive shortstop in our system."

The Pirates had a greater dearth at that position than any other in the minors, so competition for such a title is negligible.

Strickland, a 20-year-old, 6-foot-5 right-hander with a fastball in the 88-90 mph range, was pitching for low Class A Greenville with a 5-4 record, 3.35 ERA and 51 strikeouts and 13 walks over 18 appearances, including 12 starts.

"We get a young, upside pitcher who's the type we're looking for out of the draft," Huntington said. "He has a good frame, good delivery and athleticism."

Diaz will start out a level higher, at Class AAA Indianapolis. Strickland will stay in the same league, with West Virginia.

To replace LaRoche, the Pirates recalled first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce from Indianapolis.

LaRoche will join Boston tomorrow and is expected to split time at first base with Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis also can play third to spell banged-up Mike Lowell upon his return.

Epstein, who consulted two of LaRoche's former teammates, Jason Bay and John Smoltz, before making the trade, explained that the Red Sox were "in a market for a player who can do some damage against right-handed pitching." Epstein also expressed hope that LaRoche's power can be a good fit because, when he is swinging his best, the ball is driven to left and left-center, where Fenway Park has its famed Green Monster.

LaRoche exchanged embraces with coaches, players and staff on his way out, a scene that long ago became familiar in PNC Park's home clubhouse.

How does he feel about the Pirates' future?

"This is nothing earth-shattering. We've moved big pieces before," LaRoche said. "Obviously, Neal's got a plan to build with the minors and, eventually, have a winner here. And I'm really rooting for these guys. I just hope it's sooner rather than later when it clicks."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at . Catch more on the Pirates and join the discussion at the PBC Blog . First Published July 23, 2009 4:00 AM


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