Huntington silences critics as Pirates acquire Byrd

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In a bold move that significantly upgrades the Pirates chances of winning the National League Central Division, the team today acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck from the New York Mets.

The Pirates sent well-regarded middle infielder Dilson Herrera, 19, who was playing at low Class A, and a player to be named to the Mets. Herrera was ranked as the Pirates 11th-best prospect by MLB.com.

It was a bold, strong move by general manager Neal Huntington, which is certain to silence his critics while significantly upgrading the Pirates struggling offense.

Byrd, a right-handed hitter, is having an outstanding comeback season with the Mets. He is hitting .285 with an .848 OPS. He has 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He will move immediately into the Pirates lineup in right field and hit in the middle of the batting order.

Buck, 33, has 15 homers and 60 RBIs and gives the Pirates an experience MLB catcher behind Russell Martin and is a considerable upgrade over rookie Tony Sanchez.

Huntington has done what many thought impossible: He added significant pieces without giving up a significant prospect.

Byrd, 35, was suspended for 50 games last year for violation of MLB's drug policy. That made him damaged good in the eyes of most teams and he went from making $6.5 million with Boston in 2012 to $700,000 with the Mets. His response was to resurrect his career with what is already his highest home run and second-highest RBI totals.

He has been feasting on left-handed pitching and doing well enough -- much better than any Pirate -- against right-handers. His batting line against left-handers is .345/.383/.597 -- .980. Against right handers: .255/.304/.479 -- .783. Fourteen of his home runs have come against right-handed pitching.

In terms of OPS against left-handed pitching, the Pirates now have four of the top 11 in the National League. Andrew McCutchen is first (1.120), Starling Marte second (1.078), Byrd tenth (.980)and Gaby Sanchez eleventh (.958).

Buck not only upgrades the Pirates catching situation, with the expansion of rosters on Sept. 1 he will be a big lift to their bench. With a third catcher expected to be added to the roster, that will free up either Buck or Martin for pinch-hitting duties.

The Pirates have struggled all season in right field. Travis Snider, who handled the position most of the season, was a major flop. Jose Tabata has been playing most of right field of late and has done better but lacks the power usually expected from a right fielder.

The combined OPS of Pirates right fielders is .655, lowest in the National League. That number alone shows what a major addition Byrd can be.

Of course, there are no guarantees. The Pirates acquired Ryan Ludwick for the 2011 stretch drive. At the time Ludwick was in the top 10 in the National League in RBIs. He drove in 11 runs in 112 at bats with the Pirates. The next season, with the Cincinnati Reds, he hit 26 home runs and drove in 80.

There's no predicting the future, not even the next five to six weeks. But the Pirates, who open a three-game series with Milwaukee tonight, are a considerably better team today than they were yesterday.

bobsmiziksports


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