The Braves, desperate for a big stick to add to the outfield mix, have acquired Nate McLouth from the Pirates in exchange for three minor league prospects not named Tommy Hanson or Kris Medlen in a huge move that shook the baseball universe late on Wednesday night.
The Braves recently came to the realization that Jordan Schafer and his .204 average and 63 strikeouts in 167 at-bats wasn’t big league ready, so they sent him down to the minors recently which left the club one bat short in the outfield. The Braves, in desperate need of some pop considering that the team leaders in home runs have just five – Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar (and as you obviously surmised none of those guys is an outfielder), were looking to make a big move. As such, reports are that the Braves sent pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke as well as outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to the Pirates for their best player, McLouth, an outfielder with power, perfectly fitting the Braves’ need.
Nate McLouth hit .276 with 26 home runs and 94 RBI in 2008 as he also managed to scored 113 runs while swiping 23 bases. As such, he was one of just four 25/25 men in the bigs – the others being some fairly significant names: Hanley Ramirez, Matt Holliday, Grady Sizemore and Carlos Beltran. Though he has battled some injuries this season, McLouth is still working on a pace that would net him roughly 30 home runs, 115 RBI, 95 runs and 25 steals, a virtually repeat of his 2008 campaign. Sure his average is a bit down at .256, but that should reverse itself when his “luck” changes. By luck I mean when his BABIP, just .262, returns to his career level of .285, and his line drive rate, currently just 13.6%, also picks up and returns to his traditional level of 18.8%, that average of McLouth’s should rise a bit at least returning to the realm of respectable even if he doesn’t push the .290 or .300 mark.
As for the lineup change, McLouth figures to become one of the centerpieces of what could be a tremendous 3-4-5 in the heart of the Braves lineup with Chipper and Brian McCann. That obviously bodes well for his outlook. In addition, he moves from a park in Pittsburgh that is currently 19th according to Park Factors in runs scored to a park that is 15th. That isn’t a huge improvement, but it should help a bit. However, he is also going from the park that was 11th according to Park Indices in 2008 in the NL in home runs for left-handed batters to the park that ranked 13th. That’s pretty much a wash, though hitting in a better lineup with a team vying for a playoff spot should certainly offer a boost to a guy who has played for an outright loser his whole life.
As for the Pirates, this team, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1992 when Barry Bonds roamed their outfield, has once again traded a franchise building block for future promise. At some point the fans in that wonderful city are just going to have to give up and cheer for the Steelers year round as it’s clear that the baseball team just isn’t wiling to do what is necessary to field a championship caliber team on the diamond. My heart goes out to you Pirates fans. Maybe it isn’t too late to cheer the Penguins on as they try to come back against the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup.
By Ray Flowers