|Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche has gone the way of Jason Bay, Sean Burnett, Eric Hinske, Damaso Marte, Nate McLouth and Xavier Nady before him. The 29-year-old, lefthanded slugger joins a growing gaggle of veterans, all of them nearing free agency, who had more value to Pittsburgh as trade chips than they did as on-field contributors to the last-place Pirates.
LaRoche heads to Boston, where he joins former Bucs teammate Jason Bay, whom the Red Sox acquired in last July’s Manny Ramirez three-team blockbuster. For two months of LaRoche’s services, the Red Sox shipped Double-A shortstop Argenis Diaz and 20-year-old righthander Hunter Strickland to the Pirates.
|The Young Players|
|Signed out of Venezuela in July 2003, Diaz has big league potential as a defense-oriented shortstop, thanks to plus hands, instincts, range and arm strength. The 22-year-old is not fast or aggressive on the basepaths, though, and his bat projects to be a bit light for a regular role. A righthanded batter, Diaz was hitting .253/.309/.310 in 277 at-bats for Portland, showing the lack of patience (21 walks, 60 strikeouts) and power (14 doubles, one triple) that have been constants during his six-year pro career.
A 6-foot-5 righthander lauded for his makeup, Strickland had touched 94 mph in his last two starts for low Class A Greenville, where he was 5-4, 3.46 in 18 games (12 starts). He generally sits in the 88-92 mph range and locates his fastball down in the zone. Strickland’s secondary stuff needs refinement, and he lacks a swing and miss pitch, as evidenced by his strikeout (51) and walk (13) totals over 83 innings for the Drive. On the plus side, his fastball command gives him a chance of developing into a big league reliever. The Red Sox selected Strickland in the 18th round of the 2007 draft, taking him from Pike County High in Zebulon, Ga.
|Now separated from brother Andy in Pittsburgh, LaRoche never blossomed into the frontline power presence the Pirates had envisioned when they traded for him prior to the 2007 season. He had crushed 32 home runs for the Braves in ’06, and his pull power seemed like a perfect fit for PNC Park, which has played friendlier for lefthanded power hitters during its existence. Spending his age 27-29 seasons in Pittsburgh, LaRoche maxed out at 25 home runs last year, and he hit a combined 58 round-trippers and slugged .469 in 375 games for the Pirates. That’s solid production, but not quite what the Bucs needed out of their cleanup hitter and first baseman. Now that he’s earning $7.05 million in his final season before free agency, LaRoche became an instant trade candidate—even if he does attain Type B free agent compensation status.
The Red Sox can take comfort in the fact that LaRoche has been a steady second-half performer throughout his six-year big league career. Batting .247/.329/.441 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 324 at-bats prior to the trade, LaRoche compiled post-all-star break OPS figures of .975, .854 and 1.042 in the past three completed seasons. Is this a repeatable skill? At the price they paid, the Red Sox are taking a gamble on a repeat that has minimal risk. LaRoche could find playing time at first base, if Kevin Youkilis has to replace third baseman Mike Lowell for an extended stretch. Otherwise, he figures to be used as a pinch-hitter and fill-in at first and as DH.
The Pirates, meanwhile, show they’re once again serious about selling off veterans at the deadline, as teams with second base or shortstop shortcomings eye Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson. As for Diaz and Strickland, they join a raft of Pirates trade acquisitions who seemingly now number in the hundreds. Pittsburgh has transformed the aforementioned seven veterans into 17 young players (or inexperienced veterans): righthanders Casey Erickson, Craig Hansen, Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens, Dan McCutchen, Bryan Morris, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf and Strickland; lefty Jeff Locke; third baseman Andy LaRoche; shortstop Diaz; and outfielders Eric Fryer, Gorkys Hernandez, Lastings Milledge, Brandon Moss and Jose Tabata. It’s a group long on potential but a bit short on early returns.
Garrett Jones, a 28-year-old minor league free agent pickup, figures to be the biggest immediate beneficiary of the LaRoche trade. Batting .286/.348/.746 with eight homers in 16 games since being recalled from Triple-A, Jones likely will shift from the outfield corners to first base. That in turn should help Milledge, who was 14-for-35 (.400) at Indianapolis, with seven walks and four strikeouts. He now may find playing time alongside Andrew McCutchen in the Pittsburgh outfield.