Pirates' trade pieces raise stakes
Center fielder Nate McLouth never was seriously shopped at the Winter Meetings and surely after his tremendous April, he is going nowhere.
Heavy rain falls into the visitors dugout before the Pirates game against the Mets at Shea Stadium was postponed because of rain in New York.
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NEW YORK -- Over a long inaugural winter as the Pirates' general manager, Neal Huntington had set out to revamp his roster with significant veteran-for-prospect trades.
Trouble was, no one was buying.
Not at what he considered fair value, anyway.
So, by January, he and team president Frank Coonelly decided to hang onto those players, partly to keep the 2008 team competitive and partly to let those individuals show greater value, whether in performance or health.
Well, take an early look at the five players known to have been most discussed around the time of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings in December:
• Xavier Nady, shopped all winter, is batting .327 with four home runs and 23 RBIs, ranking second in the National League in the latter.
- Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:10 p.m., Shea Stadium.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-1, 4.45) vs. LHP Johan Santana (3-2, 3.12).
- Key matchup: Everybody vs. the brilliant Santana. Opponents are batting .226 off him with just three extra-base hits after his 45th pitch of the game.
- Of note: In the past 33 seasons, the only Pirates starter other than Paul Maholm on Sunday to throw a two-hitter with no more than two strikeouts was Doug Drabek. He fanned two as part of a one-hit shutout May 27, 1991, in St. Louis.
On top of that, he has bluntly addressed concerns -- including those of potential trading partners -- about the hamstring trouble that slowed him in 2007, not only through above-average defense but also through starting 24 of 25 games.
• Jason Bay, the other corner outfielder who nearly was sent to the Cleveland Indians, has overcome a slow start to bat .264 with five home runs, and his team-high 19 walks have his on-base percentage back up to a characteristic .396.
Trading partners worried about his production and his wobbly knees, but he is healthy enough to have upgraded his defense and even has manager John Russell's green light.
• John Grabow has been among the best left-handed relievers in the majors, with a 0.00 ERA and seven hits -- none for extra bases -- allowed in 12 innings, along with 11 strikeouts and two walks.
Trading partners' concern about Grabow was that his long-nagging elbow chips made him an injury risk, but he strengthened his entire upper body in the offseason, and he credits that for his elbow feeling "great."
• Damaso Marte, perhaps the majors' most efficient one-out specialist last season, had two awful outings to open this one, those being largely responsible for his 7.84 ERA.
But he quickly regained form, even as management has followed through on its plan to have him face more right-handed batters.
• Center fielder Nate McLouth was the other player raised at those Winter Meetings, but indications were strong that the Pirates merely floated his name as a trial balloon. He never was seriously shopped and, surely after his tremendous April, is going nowhere.
As for the other four, all remain good bets to go, especially if the 10-15 Pirates collectively sink in the standings.
Nady and Bay, each eligible for free agency after 2009, could give way to prospects Andrew McCutchen and Steve Pearce by summer's end, with McLouth sliding to left field and McCutchen in center. Grabow is eligible for free agency after next season, and Marte has a $6 million club option that has no chance of being exercised.
But, as the numbers attest, none of the above seems terribly affected by any of this.
"You can't think about that stuff," Grabow said shortly before the Pirates and New York Mets were rained out last night at Shea Stadium. "A lot of the time, when your name comes up in terms of a trade, it's a rumor. Just go about your business. Don't change anything. I'm with the Pirates."
Nady's approach sounds similar, even as his name continues to surface as a possible target for the Mets, his previous employer.
"I've been traded twice already, so I've learned you just go out and play the game the right way," he said. "Whatever team you're playing for that day, it's your job to win ballgames. You still have to prepare the same, and you still have to have fun."
He was asked if he would prefer to remain in Pittsburgh, even if he is keenly aware he is most likely to go.
"Heck, yeah, I'd like to stay. I enjoy the group. I enjoy the fans and the city. I like the direction this team is going in, too. But I know they feel we need a few more pieces, and I'm sure there are some things they feel they need to do to take us to that next level. I guess I'll just have to wait to see how that plays out."
Bay, who could become the Pirates' biggest fish in trade scenarios, shrugged it off, too.
"I've never once looked at any trade possibility as having any bearing on how I do," he said. "Sometimes, when a player goes good or bad, people want to point to that. For whatever reason, in here, there are a few guys whose name floated around who are doing better than before. But I don't think that has anything to do with it."
He did acknowledge, though, that some values could be rising.
"If you step back and look at it, maybe. I don't think 25 games is a good sample size, but it's better than nothing. And there are certain things that maybe other teams wanted to see from some people that they're seeing now."
For the record, the Pirates are not known to be involved in significant trade talks. And none likely will take place until after management essentially punts on the current season, which it does not sound prepared to do.
"We're all competitors, and we set out to win every game we play," Huntington said. "The reality is that isn't going to happen. But we need to put ourselves in the best position to make that happen on a nightly basis. We want to feel good about the lineup we put out there. We want to feel good about the pitchers we have available."
But how patient can he be, with key potential trade pieces gaining in value?
"It's always a balance between patience and aggressiveness, and short and long term. We need to continue to think about how we build this thing going forward, all the things we've talked about in the offseason and how we hold those standards high. But we need to do that without making knee-jerk reactions."
First Published April 29, 2008 12:00 am