June 30, 2009
Does Lastings Milledge(notes) carry his five tools onto the plane with him or does he check them curbside? Either way, it's time to pack up again for the talented, enigmatic young outfielder; the Pittsburgh Pirates are the latest club to take a shot at his tantalizing upside.
The Bucs controlled the news of the day Tuesday with a couple of trades, the major one involving Milledge. Pittsburgh shipped Nyjer Morgan(notes) and Sean Burnett(notes) to Washington in exchange for Milledge (currently rehabbing in the low minors off a finger injury) and Joel Hanrahan(notes). On the trading undercard, the Pirates sent Eric Hinske(notes) to the Yankees in exchange for two Single-A prospects (C/OF Eric Fryer, RHP Casey Erickson).
It's a excellent job of buying low by the Bucs. While there are no guarantees that Milledge will ever put things together and become the star most of us expected, his upside is far and away the biggest of anyone in this deal and he's still just 24. Let's not forget the production he posted down the stretch in 2008 (.299, seven homers, 11 steals over his final 58 games). Morgan is five years older and we're seeing him at the top of his game right now – a fourth outfielder on a good club, a starter on a weaker team. He'll probably settle in as Washington's regular center fielder, which nixes Willie Harris's(notes) moment of glory and also complicates the issue for Elijah Dukes(notes) and Josh Willingham(notes).
It's not clear yet what the Pirates plan to do with Milledge initially; the Nationals scapegoated him and dispatched him to the minors in April, but a focused Milledge can probably help a big-league club immediately. In deeper mixed fantasy leagues where the outfield pickings are slim, I'd strongly consider grabbing Milledge right now, at least until we know how the Bucs plan to play this out. In leagues with 10 owners or less, I'd hold off on a move (unless you're just trying to get past the boredom of a stupid bloody Tuesday).
Hanrahan's got the raw stuff to someday get a look at closing again down the line, but the Pirates have a mechanics and confidence rebuild with him first; he's probably done as a fantasy commodity in 2009. Burnett is a name to clip-and-save; the lefty and former first-round pick has quietly broken through this year (3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), and might get some late-inning consideration in Washington if and when the Mike MacDougal(notes) experiment hits a rough patch. Burnett has been dominant against lefties and strong against righties this year, so he might be an exception to the general convention against left-handed closers.
And there's one more name that's tied to all these trades, Pittsburgh outfielder Garrett Jones(notes). The 28-year-old outfielder was recalled from Triple-A after the Hinske deal and while he's too old to be considered a true prospect any longer, he is in the middle of a productive year (.307/.348/.502, 12 homers, 14 steals). It will be interesting to see how John Russell fills out the lineup card tonight.
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