After days of speculation, Nyjer Morgan is headed to the Nationals in exchange for Lastings Milledge. The Pirates also added Sean Burnett to the deal, and will receive reliever Joel Hanrahan. This is an excellent trade for Neal Huntington and the Pirates.
Nyjer has been solid this year, with most of his value coming from his defense. He is hitting .277/.351/.356 with 18 stolen bases and 10 caught stealings, good for a below average wOBA of .315. He has an excellent UZR of 14.3, which has done wonders for the Pirates’ pitching staff. But the important thing to remember is that nearly all of Nyjer’s value comes from his amazing speed. Not only does it lead to good defense, it also helps keep his BABIP consistently high. He needs that high BABIP to compensate for his extreme lack of power. The problem is that Nyjer, who turns 29 on Thursday, is approaching the age in which players generally begin losing a step. He will likely have little value remaining in another couple of years.
In Milledge, the Pirates receive an impressive talent. Last year, as a 23-year-old, Milledge hit a decent .268/.330/.402. He is clearly more gifted physically than Morgan is, and he also has loads more upside. He does come with some baggage. He is not very selective at the plate, chasing over 30% of pitches outside the zone in his career. That has led to poor walk rates that have hurt his value. He also has racked up some poor UZR numbers in center. For what it’s worth, he has mostly rated as about average in corner outfield spots over his minor league career. As for Milledge’s makeup issues, I think they are probably overblown a bit. That kind of thing can happen to a player in New York. Rob Neyer agrees with me on that.
As for the pitchers in this trade, the Pirates also got the better of the Nationals. Burnett has posted an ERA of 3.06 in 2009, but his peripherals are not nearly as impressive. He has only struck out 23 while walking 15 in 32.1 innings. He is currently living off a BABIP of .218 and a strand rate of 78.2%. Burnett’s FIP is 4.50, indicating some regression in his future. Hanrahan is just the opposite. He has struck out 35 with 14 walks in 32.2 innings. His BABIP is an unheard of .451. Hanrahan’s 3.56 FIP in no way matches his 7.71 ERA. Hanrahan also has much better raw stuff than Burnett does. This is a classic case of buying low, selling high by Huntington.
The Pirates took on some definite risk in this deal, but they also added major upside. And all they gave up was a couple of marginal players. This is a major win for Neal Huntington.