Nationals Acquire Nyjer Morgan For Stretch Run

Thirty games under .500 and a hefty 17 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East, the Washington Nationals shrewdly traded 24-year-old ex-top-prospect Lastings Milledge to the Pirates for 29-year-old occasional-base-stealer Nyjer Morgan, whose hustle and grit and hustlegrit should have the Nationals back in contention by the end of the month. The month of JUNE, I mean.

In the meantime, the Pirates will have to make due with a player who’s 5 years younger than Morgan, and despite marginal defense in the past and reputed attitude issues, hit .268 / .330 / .402 with 14 HR, 24 SB and 9 CS in a full season as a 23-year-old. Morgan, at 29, is currently hitting .277/.351/.356 with 18 SB and 10 CS. So basically, the Pirates got a former top prospect whose supposedly underwhelming 2008 campaign was still equally or more productive than Morgan’s current 2009 season. If you factor in Morgan’s ’09 left field defense, the edge at this exact moment probably goes to Morgan, but at 5 years younger and already showing flashes of power that Morgan will never replicate, Milledge is just unquestionably the more valuable player at this point, especially to two teams that aren’t even in the same hemisphere as Ready To Contend City.

Morgan lamented his departure with this unexaggerated statement:

“I definitely loved going to war with these boys here. It’s unfortunate that I have to go. But that’s part of business.”

Like most people, when Morgan says “going to war” he means “playing regular season baseball games against the Milwaukee Brewers.”

Always quick to put things in perspective, Neal “I Don’t Give A Dead Hippo’s Asshole What You Think Of Me” Huntington, offered this sobering quote:

The human element of the game is something we can’t ignore. But our goal is to put an excellent team on the field and not just a bunch of nice guys out there. [Bolded for awesome]

The teams also exchanged relievers, with the Pirates sending former first round pick turned semi-productive lefty reliever Sean Burnett for the Nationals’ dubious ex-closer Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan is 27 to Burnett’s 26, and despite the gap in ERAs (Burnett’s is 3.06, Hanrahan’s an unsightly 7.71), Hanrahan has 35 K / 14 BB this season, and posted 93 K / 42 BB and a 3.95 ERA in 84 innings in 2008. Charlie from Bucs Dugout also points out that Hanrahan’s bad 2009 stats are at least somewhat fluky, adding:

He also has an incredible .451 batting average on balls in play this year, which basically means you can dismiss that high ERA, because luck and/or the Nats’ defense has simply killed him. (Burnett’s BABIP is an absurdly low .218.)

Basically, even though Hanrahan’s ’09 ERA looks crappy next to Burnett’s, he’s in the midst of an absurdly unlucky season and isn’t any less likely to resume being a productive reliever than Burnett is to continue being one — the fact that Hanrahan strikes out more than a batter an inning might even make him more valuable, but at the very least, this swap doesn’t detract from the heart of the deal, which is the Pirates’ buying low on Lastings Milledge.

Overall, I can only envision two possible outcomes to this deal:

1) Milledge taps into his potential and becomes a productive major league outfielder with gap power, terrific speed, and passable defense, and the Pirates win this trade in a landslide.

2) Milledge doesn’t tap into his potential, and none of the four players in this deal are that significant 2 years from now.

The trade is a buy-low move on a former superprospect, and the Nats would’ve laughed to the point of vomiting had this deal been offered in spring training. How can three months of one regular season completely reverse that sentiment? Even if Milledge doesn’t pan out, I really don’t see any downside here.

Well, I guess FSN Pittsburgh is gonna have to scrap yet another “I Am A Pirate” tv spot, but, well, you can’t make an omelette without breakin’ some eggs.

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