Pirates take on 'big risks' in Milledge, Hanrahan
The Pirates acquired outfielder Lastings Milledge from the Nationals yesterday.
The Pirates dealt outfielder Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals yesterday.
The Pirates dealth pitcher Sean Burnett to the Nationals yesterday.
The Pirates dealt third baseman Eric Hinske to the Yankees yesterday.
The Pirates acquired pitcher Joel Hanrahan in a trade yesterday.
The Pirates recalled outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones from Class AAA Indianapolis yesterday.
The Pirates are expected to promote outfielder Jeff Salazar from Class AAA Indianapolis today.
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For more than a decade, one of the Pirates' myriad shortcomings was that they rarely took risks on personnel matters, from the draft to signing free agents to trades. It was better to have that sure-thing .270 hitter, the thinking seemed to go, than the one who could either blossom into something special or blow up in their faces.
Yesterday, they most definitely took on two risks in the latter mold, acquiring outfielder Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan in a trade with Washington that sent outfielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett to the Nationals.
"Big risks, no question, but with big upside," general manager Neal Huntington said. "These are the kinds of things we have to do. We might miss. But, if we're right -- and we're going to work very hard to make sure we get everything we can -- these are two talented players."
Also yesterday, the Pirates:
• Traded utilityman Eric Hinske to the New York Yankees for two Class A prospects, pitcher Casey Erickson and outfielder/catcher Eric Fryer. The Pirates also paid $400,000 to the Yankees to cover about half the remainder of Hinske's $1.5 million salary.
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• Promoted outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones from Class AAA Indianapolis in time for the game last night against the Chicago Cubs.
• Left a roster spot vacant last night, but today will promote outfielder Jeff Salazar from Indianapolis.
The departure of Morgan and Burnett was the clear focus in and around PNC Park, with a few veteran players predictably upset. But management made no secret of its satisfaction at getting Milledge and Hanrahan, even though each player is sure to present challenges in fulfilling his potential.
Milledge would appear to have the most in the challenge and potential categories.
The potential is obvious...
A superb five-tool repertoire had him ranked the New York Mets' top prospect by Baseball America two years in a row upon being promoted in 2006 at age 21, and he followed that by batting .303 in his minor league career. He already has spent 2 1/2 seasons in Major League Baseball despite being only 24, with a .261 average, 25 home runs and 29 steals.
The challenge is no less glaring, though...
In 2007, Milledge performed on a profanity-laced rap album that prompted one New York city councilman to declare, "He's lost his mind." The previous year, he followed his first major league home run with a victory lap of high-fives with Shea Stadium fans. Going back further, he was expelled from Northside Christian School in Florida amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with a 15-year-old girlfriend.
Milledge opened this season as the Nationals' leadoff man, but it took only seven games -- as well as a 4-for-24 slump and two missed team meetings -- to tick off manager Manny Acta. He was sent down to Class AAA Syracuse, with no return trip scheduled.
The Pirates were aware of all this and surely learned more after conducting no fewer than 20 personal inquiries to learn all they could about Milledge. And their conclusion, one echoed by others in the industry yesterday, was that this is not so much a bad seed as it is someone who needs to grow up.
"With maturity and the proper guidance, he was a chance we're willing to take," Huntington said.
Milledge was unavailable for comment, but his father, Tony Milledge, said last night that he hopes going to the Pirates will bring a fresh start.
"Lastings is thrilled to death, I can tell you that," Tony Milledge said by phone from Palmetto, Fla., the family home just across the river from Bradenton, the Pirates' spring home and Lastings' birthplace. "I'm telling you this is a good kid, and I'm not just saying that because I'm his dad. Tell the people in Pittsburgh, please give this kid a chance. He'll give you the shirt off his back, Pittsburgh."
That will have to wait.
Milledge has spent the past six weeks rehabilitating a broken ring finger on his right hand, injured while trying to bunt in a May 11 game for Syracuse. The Pirates will work with him for two days in Bradenton, then assign him to Indianapolis, likely by Sunday.
Huntington, evidently wanting Milledge to prove himself, said he will be summoned to Pittsburgh "if he performs. He'll show us."
Hanrahan, 27, is a right-handed flame-thrower -- 94-97 mph with a slider-curve that Huntington called "outstanding" -- coming off a strong rookie season in 2008 with Washington: 3.95 ERA in 69 appearances, 93 strikeouts, 42 walks. That earned him a spot in the United States bullpen this past spring in the World Baseball Classic.
This season has been wholly different, with a 7.71 ERA in 34 appearances, just five saves in 10 opportunities, and 14 walks against his 35 strikeouts.
"He's had some hard luck, and he's made some bad pitches in there," Huntington said. "But there's a lot to like."
The Pirates' statistical guru, Dan Fox, determined that luck had much to do with Hanrahan's numbers. In particular, opposing batters had a remarkably high .451 average on balls put in play, a powerful indicator that many more balls were finding holes -- or the soft Washington defense -- than the norm.
One American League scout yesterday called Hanrahan's stuff "amazing at times" but added concern about his command and, to a greater extent, whether or not he could handle pitching in late innings.
Pirates reliever John Grabow, Hanrahan's teammate on that U.S. roster, had the opposite stance.
"He definitely has what it takes," Grabow said.
Hanrahan will join the Pirates today.
It was Washington's acting general manager, Mike Rizzo, who approached Huntington about the trade, eager to add Morgan as a center fielder and leadoff man. The Pirates initially sought starter Craig Stammen along with Milledge, but the teams ended up exchanging relievers to get it done.
Morgan and Burnett, each palpably committed to the Pirates and each acclaimed by teammates as competitors, took the trade hard.
Morgan exchanged intense embraces every which way he turned, especially with rookie center fielder Andrew McCutchen, a player he had taken under his wing for years.
"I definitely loved going to war with these boys here. It's unfortunate that I have to go. But that's part of business. I'm really proud that another team wants me."
He was asked what the future holds for the Pirates.
"Hard to tell. I thought I was going to be here a little while, me and Cutch. The M&M boys, we were about to do it. But it's not going to happen."
Morgan, the Pirates' most surprising performer of 2008, was batting .277 and was, by some metrics, the best defensive left fielder in the majors.
Burnett, the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2000 who finally had begun to establish himself as a left-on-left specialist with a .189 opponents' average after years of rehabilitation, acknowledged crying upon hearing the news.
"It's tough," he said. "This is all I know. I know everybody in the organization, from Pirate City up to here. They stuck with me through a lot of years, when I was hurt and rehabbing. I really appreciate that."
Rizzo called Morgan and Burnett "two cornerstones of the organization" for the last-place Nationals.
Similar to that trade, it was the Yankees, in need of a left-handed bat off the bench, who approached the Pirates about Hinske. The Pirates liked the two prospects they sought enough to contribute to Hinske's remaining salary.
Fryer, 23, was batting .250 with two home runs, 11 doubles and 24 RBIs for high Class A Tampa. He played mostly in left field, but Huntington said the Pirates will move him back behind the plate. They tried to acquire him early last year from the Milwaukee Brewers.
He will be assigned to high Class A Lynchburg.
Erickson, 23, was 3-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 appearances, three starts, for low Class A Charleston. Huntington said he could be moved into a starting role because of a wide repertoire that lends itself to getting grounders.
He will be assigned to low Class A West Virginia.
The two trades were a wash in terms of salary and rights: Milledge makes $452,000, Hanrahan $420,000, and, including the payoff on the Hinske trade, the Pirates lose an estimated total of $65,000 on that front. The Pirates control the rights to Milledge four years, Hanrahan five. The Nationals get four each with Morgan and Burnett.
Of the callups: Jones, 28, batted .307 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs for Indianapolis. Salazar, 28, batted .256 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs.
"I'm really happy to have my chance and looking forward to doing my best," Jones said.
First Published July 1, 2009 12:00 am