Monday, August 1, 2011

Ludwick, Lee MIGHT make Pirates better....

Pittsburgh Pirates fans may have been hoping for a big bill when general manager Neal Huntington made his way to the checkout line at the trade deadline market. It's been since 1997 that the Bucs weren't stocking the shelves but actually leaving with some of the groceries.  And as a first time in Huntington's four-year tenure, the first-time buyer was accused of sticker shock.

Huntington seemed to feel the effects of those 18 straight losing seasons while shopping, with at least one big fish not wanting to play for the Pirates. He also didn't want to mortgage the future for the present. He admitted after Sunday's deadline in a conference call that maybe the Bucs deserved a little criticism for undervaluing the impact of a two-month rental player and how the team may have been too eager to hold on to "six years worth of major league performance for two months of someone who may or may not make a positive impact."

However, NH stayed on goal while acquiring veteran hitters Ryan Ludwick from San Diego and Baltimore's Derrek Lee, sacrificing very little and utilizing some of the increased revenue to help out the club offensively. However there are certainly questions about both guys.

Ludwick appears to be the biggest example of the Pirates increased spending, with the team picking up all of the remaining $2.2 million on his 2011 contract before he becomes a free agent after the season. Ludwick has hit .238 this season but has 11 HRs and 62 RBIs. That sounds very good until you take a look inside those numbers a bit. Just three HRs since June 1 in 200 plate appearances.

"We feel like we've added two impact hitters, two good guys in the clubhouse and guys who have played meaningful games late in the season that still have gas left in the tank," Huntington said.  "Derrek is swinging the bat better late in the season as he's gotten healthy and Ryan will do better just getting out of San Diego. No offense to San Diego but that's a tremendous pitcher's ballpark.

Ludwick has hit .258 outside of San Diego's Petco Park but he only hit .172 in July. Ludwick is a player who hit 37 HRs in 2008 and another 22 in 2009. It's safe to say the Pirates are hoping the change of scenary will bolster his production.

'"Ryan was brought in here to help us win games. As we move forward, he should be able to help us," NH said when asked if Ludwick will play everyday.  "Our scouts saw the abilities that make him a successful hitter."

Lee is a career .282 hitter but has seen his average decrease tremendously since winning a batting title in 2005. Coming off a .260 year between the Cubs and Braves last year, Lee has hit .246 with 12 HRs in Baltimore. Both of those numbers, despite being a bit below average among baseball's first baseman, is a tremendous upgrade to the Pirates lineup. But how much Lee has left is a big question. He's a career .297 hitter at PNC Park but just .246 from 2009-2011.

There are questions for the Pirates but the strongest part of this deal appears to be what the acquisitions cost. Not one minor league pitcher was traded away, with Baltimore settling for a Class A hitter in Aaron Baker, who was no higher than fourth on the Pirates organizational depth chart at 1B. The Ludwick deal is a player to be named later or cash heading back to San Diego.

Good for NH either way. He certainly attempted to address the team's offensive needs. With Ryan Doumit almost ready to come off the DL, the return of at least Alex Presley in the near future and eventually Jose Tabata in left field and the hopes for Pedro Alvarez's late 2010 power bat, the Bucs are a better team than they were on Sunday. Sitting 4 1/2 games out in the NL Central, the question now is are they good enough to climb back into the divisional race after a brutal road trip through Atlanta and Philadelphia accompanied by the Brewers beating up on the Astros and Cubs.

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