Major League Baseball’s trade deadline has come and gone, and for the first time in almost two decades, the Pirates were buyers. I’ll cut right to the chase here: The moves they made aren’t sexy by any means. They didn’t get Carlos Beltran or Hunter Pence. Or B.J. Upton, Josh Willingham or Jason Kubel. But by acquiring Derrek Lee from the Orioles and Ryan Ludwick from the Padres, GM Neal Huntington made under-the-radar moves that could be enough for a playoff push.
In Lee, the team gets a proven first baseman who has been to the postseason and knows what it takes to make that push down the stretch. In all honesty, his experience may end up being the biggest thing Lee provides this team. I’m aware that Lyle Overbay was brought in for the same reasons and it didn’t work out, but Lee is different. He knows the division from his years in Chicago; the insight he can offer the young Pirates roster will be priceless.
Speaking of Overbay, in what was likely his last game in a Pirates uniform, he launched a ball yard for a two-run home run against the Phillies on Sunday. How awesome would it have been if he rounded the bases with both middle fingers in the air towards Huntington, mouthing “See ya later suckaaaaaaa”? Epic may be the best term to describe that scenario, along with awesome and hilarious. And with everything surprising that’s happened with the 2011 Pirates, it may not have been all that out of place to see.
Anyhow, back to Lee. His numbers aren’t phenomenal this season (.246/.302/.404, 12 HR, 41 RBI), but he has been heating up since the All-Star break. He’ll prove to be a solid bat in the lineup for the Buccos, though, and with his knowledge of pitchers in the division, he may see a big boost in his numbers down the stretch. To get him, the team gave up a solid minor-league bat in single-A first baseman Aaron Baker (.282/.351/.469, 15 HR, 73 RBI), but he’s 23 this season and didn’t even make the team’s preseason top-30 prospect list. Unless he turns into a late bloomer like Ryan Howard, I’m pretty sure the Pirates came out well ahead in the deal.
Ludwick is going to turn out to be the biggest difference maker for the offense. His numbers this year (.238/301/.371, 11 HR, 64 RBI) don’t completely reflect what he can bring to the team since he’s played half of this season in the worst hitters park in America (PETCO Park in San Diego). Also, he hasn’t really had the luxury of lineup protection this year. When put in the Pirates lineup, with the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Lee, Ludwick should see a boost in his numbers almost immediately. And to get him, the team only gave up a player to be named later, who hasn’t been announced yet.
Will the moves be enough? Only time will tell. The Pirates weren’t the only team in the NL Central making moves on Sunday. St Louis went out and got shortstop Rafael Furcal to go along with Friday’s trade that netted starter Edwin Jackson, outfielder Corey Patterson and reliever Octavio Dotel. Milwaukee was also working to improve, solidifying their lineup with outfielder Jerry Hairston Jr. and infielder Felipe Lopez, along with the Francisco Rodriguez deal from July 13. The Reds, surprisingly didn’t make any moves, and may just be waiting until next year to make another run at the division. At this point, I think it’s going to end up being St. Louis’ division to lose, but the Pirates should make a hard push into September.
Either way, Huntington didn’t let the team and the fan base down this year. He went out and got the first baseman and right fielder that the team desperately needed — as of Friday the two positions had given the team only five RBI in the month of July — and he did it at little cost, which is the most important things. I worry that they were unable to find a bona fide setup man, but the team managed to better itself without giving up a large bounty of prospects. The moves weren’t sexy, but they accomplished what needed to be done. Sometimes, it’s the smaller moves that make the biggest difference, and the Pirates are hoping that holds true again.