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Nationals and Pirates swap Milledge for Morgan

Jun 30, 2009, 3:50 PM EDT

Chico Harlan of the Washington Post reports
that the Nationals and Pirates have agreed to a four-player trade that
sends Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh with Nyjer
Morgan and Sean Burnett heading to Washington.

Washington has soured on Milledge
since acquiring him two years ago, in large part because of his
struggles defensively in center field, and Morgan should be a massive
upgrade there. However, the trade still strikes me as a good move for
Pittsburgh, who had been playing Morgan in left field because Andrew
McCutchen’s presence means that they won’t need a center fielder for
the next decade or so.

Morgan’s defense makes him an asset wherever he’s playing, but he’s
28 years old and his career .286/.351/.376 line doesn’t look all that
great from a corner spot. For all the talk of Milledge being a huge
disappointment he’s hit .261/.326/.400 to basically match Morgan’s
production offensively, and at 24 years old has plenty of room to
improve at the plate after posting stronger numbers in the minors.

Plus, the Pirates also pick up a decent reliever in Hanrahan, who
has been yanked back and forth from the Nationals’ closer role amid
talk of him not being able to handle ninth-inning duties mentally.
Whether or not that’s true is unclear and certainly his 7.71 ERA this
season is ugly, but with a 35/14 K/BB ratio and just three homers
allowed in 32.2 innings he hasn’t pitched nearly that poorly and can be
a capable setup man.

Burnett was once thought of as a top prospect, but arm injuries and
poor strikeout rates have the 26-year-old southpaw looking like a
mediocre middle reliever or long man at this point. Pittsburgh did well
to sell high on him while his ERA is in the 3.00s, and cashing in
Morgan with his value at an all-time high makes sense too. On the flip
side, Washington is selling both Milledge and Hanrahan for pennies on
the dollar.

Morgan is a nice all-around player, but will be on the wrong side of
30 by the time the Nationals are ready to contend and in the meantime
they’ve sold low on a 24-year-old who for all his issues still has lots
of upside. Hanrahan and Burnett changing sides swings the deal a little
further in Pittsburgh’s favor, but ultimately the trade hinges on
Milledge’s ability to get his career on track and live up to at least
some of the hype.

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