After an offseason in which the Pirates did not upgrade their offense, they made an early foray into the trade market Friday.
The Pirates acquired first baseman Ike Davis from the New York Mets in exchange for minor league right-hander Zack Thornton and a player to be named later. The addition of Davis, 27, a left-handed batter, provides a complement to right-hander Gaby Sanchez and adds at least the potential of more power to the roster.
The Pirates pitching staff helped to cover for a subpar offense in 2013, a season in which they won 94 games and reached the National League Division Series. The offense lost Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones in the winter, but the Pirates didn't add anyone of significance.
First base represented the main area of uncertainty. Pirates first basemen combined for a .726 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2013, which ranked 22st in Major League Baseball.
Davis is a career .241 hitter with a .334 on-base percentage in parts of five major league seasons with the Mets. He had a strong debut in 2010 but struggled in a 2011 season shortened by an ankle injury. He hit 32 homers in 2012, but struggled enough in 2013 that the Mets sent him to the minors. He told the New York Post this spring that an oblique injury hampered him for most of 2013.
"He's had two big seasons and two injury-plagued seasons," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We're betting that our guys can get him back on the right track. I think he's a better fit in this ballpark than he was in what used to be spacious Citi Field. Very nice complement for Gaby and a guy that we think good days are ahead of him again."
Davis has a career .828 OPS when facing right-handed pitchers, making him an ideal platoon partner with Sanchez, who hits left-handers well.
Davis was hitting .161 with a .242 on-base percentage in June 2013 when the Mets sent him down. He came back a month later and hit .267 with a .429 on-base percentage the rest of the way.
"Walk rate at almost 20 percent, strikeouts were down, hard contact was up," Huntington said.
In reality, the trade was more of a carry-over from the winter and spring training. Though the Pirates had Sanchez and minor leaguer Andrew Lambo, they remained active in their search for trade possibilities, with Davis a main candidate. The Pirates optioned Lambo to Class AAA Indianapolis after a tough spring at the plate and started the season with non-roster invitee Travis Ishikawa, a left-handed first baseman, on the active roster.
Pain in Davis' right calf slowed his preparation in spring training and simultaneously prevented the Mets from determining whether he or Lucas Duda would win the first-base job. The injury further delayed the decision on whether or not to trade Davis.
"With him getting healthy, with the season getting underway, they felt it was the right time to go ahead and make the move," Huntington said.
Davis qualified for Super 2 arbitration status after 2012. He is making $3.5 million this season after his second year of arbitration eligibility.
The player to be named later likely will be a somewhat significant piece. Thornton, 25, struck out 90 in 751/3 innings last season for Indianapolis. He had a 2.63 ERA in 42 appearances.
Huntington did not know when Davis would join the team. The Pirates will make a corresponding roster move when he does.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published April 18, 2014 7:26 PM