6/30/2009: The Nationals and Pirates announce a trade:
- Nyger Morgan and Sean Burnett coming to Washington
- Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan going to Pittsburgh.
To Nationals faithful, the 6/30/2009 trade with the Pirates was a serious talking point. It was the first major trade of the Mike Rizzo era after a contentious spring training that deposed Jim Bowden. At the time of the trade, Milledge was sitting in AAA Syracuse after having hit .161 in April, and Hanrahan was busy compiling a 7.71 era while blowing as many saves (5) as he had successes as our closer.
We all know what happened next: Morgan came over, slotted into center field and had a career season. And Burnett settled into the bullpen and gave us better-than-loogy performances that continue to today. Milledge hit significantly better for Pittsburgh than had been hitting for us, and suddenly Hanrahan found the plate again and has morphed into a half-way decent late-inning option for the worst team in baseball.
At the time though, pundits far and wide talked about how the Pirates “fleeced” the Nats in the deal. Here’s one take from a USA Today columnist, and here’s MLB Trade Rumor’s round up of the typical analysts and their comments like “easy win for the Pirates.”
I remember thinking at the time that baseball pundits seemed to constantly be in love with Lastings Milledge. Nobody could see who he was as a player (immature, egotistical, uncoachable) or see his lack of accomplishments (he has a career 91 OPS+). All they could see was his age and his “potential.” (Hmm, reminds me of how Jim Bowden looked at *every* prospect) Meanwhile, Hanrahan was somehow valued higher than Burnett despite the fact that he had a 1.9 whip for 2009 (as a closer! That’s nearly two baserunners per inning for a guy you’re entrusting to finish wins) and he was a righty. Burnett was an effective lefty and remains that way today.
Anyway. When Milledge was non-tendered in December and then subsequently got into a massive brawl in the Venezuelan Winter League, I didn’t see any mea culpas from these pundits. The Pirates, probably the worst-run team in baseball and with one of the smallest payrolls, didn’t want to gamble with a probably salary in the $1M range on Milledge turning it around for 2010. He only lasted four at bats for the White Sox, who DFA’d him today. He’s officially worn out his welcome for four teams now (New York, Washington and Pittsburgh and Chicago) inside of 5 seasons.
Of course, Milledge’s counterpart in the trade Nyger Morgan was similarly jettissoned at the end of spring training when he lost out his starting center fielder job to Rick Ankiel. Morgan was traded to Milwaukee for a low-A player (Cutter Dykstra) that Keith Law described as no better than an “organizational player.” So now the trade looks more like Hanrahan for Burnett and Dykstra. Who is winning now? Burnett has been great for us, and while he’s not a 95-mph flame throwing back of the bullpen type he has been nothing but consistent, continuing to give better-than-loogy performances and now he seems slated as the closer-for-now.
There was so much vitriol in the blogosphere aimed towards the Nationals front office for this move that I feel like bringing it up. I havn’t seen too many mea culpas out there from the same people who flamed the Nats at the time.