Saturday, December 11, 2004

Pirates Trade For Lawton

The Pirates have traded Arthur Rhodes for Matt Lawton. According to the AP, each team is sending cash to the other to complete the trade. Since Lawton is signed for about $7 million for this year only and Rhodes will make about $7 million total this year and next, I imagine that the Indians will send money to the Pirates this year and the Pirates will send money to Cleveland in 2006.

Unless the Pirates are sending a lot more cash to Cleveland than they're receiving - and I have no reason to believe that is the case - I like this deal, at least when considered in isolation from the mistakes the Pirates have made before. Lawton is by no means a perfect player - he doesn't field very well, he almost certainly can't play centerfield anymore, he gets hurt a lot, and he doesn't hit for much power. But he should be a good leadoff option for the Pirates - not nearly as good as Jason Kendall would have been, but pretty good.

Meanwhile, the Pirates give up very little. Rhodes' velocity is off from his '01-'02 prime, and his strikeout numbers are way down also. And the Pirates have several lefties who could be very good out of the pen next year, including Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow, Mike Johnston, and possibly Cory Stewart.

Perhaps more important than any of this is the fact that the addition of Lawton means the Pirates are one good player away from being able to keep Tike Redman and Daryle Ward from ever starting again. Lloyd McClendon has said that centerfield is Jason Bay's best position. So let's say the current lineup looks like this:

LF Lawton
SS J. Wilson
CF Bay
1B Ward
RF C. Wilson
3B Wigginton
C Cota
2B Castillo

Redman's gone, which is a plus. But other than that, that lineup is kind of ugly. By midseason, however, the Pirates could be looking like this:

3B Sanchez
SS J. Wilson
CF Bay
LF Lawton
1B Eldred
RF C. Wilson
C House
2B Castillo

Lawton's the only lefty in there, but Rob Mackowiak and Ward would be lefty threats off the bench. That lineup could score some runs. Sanchez, Bay, Craig Wilson and Lawton should all get on base at reasonable rates, while Jack Wilson and J.R. House should provide above-average power at their positions. Castillo and Eldred are question marks, but both have lots of upside.

Essentially, the Pirates have traded Jason Kendall for Lawton and Mark Redman. If the Pirates are willing to spend the money they save on Kendall's contract in 2006 and 2007 (a huge if, given the Pirates' recent history), and if they open a spot for House and use Lawton to plug one of their offensive holes rather than as an excuse to bench Craig Wilson or something, the Pirates could come out of this series of trades looking okay, at least on offense.

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