McLouth bolsters Braves

Usually I just love deals like this: McLouth

    The Braves acquired All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth from the Pittsburgh Pirates for three minor leaguers on Wednesday, a move to beef up Atlanta's offense in hopes of contending in the NL East.
    The 27-year-old McLouth set career highs last season with a .276 batting average, 26 homers and 94 RBIs. The Braves desperately needed more offense from an outfield that produced only 10 homers through the first 51 games.

    Atlanta gave up outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, one of its top prospects, along with pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.


    Another plus: McLouth is under contract through at least 2011, having signed a three-year, $15.75 contract in spring training. The deal includes a team option for a fourth year at $10.65 million, with a $1.25 million buyout.

Just to clarify, usually I love deals like this for the team getting the prospects. Usually, though, the team getting the prospects is giving up just part of a season, or perhaps part of a season and all of the next. Usually one of the prospects is a Grade A talent, not far from the majors. And usually the veteran that's being relinquished is well-paid (if not over-paid).
In this case, I'm not sure if any of those things are true. Let alone all of them.

Charlie Morton, who's 25, has pitched exceptionally well in Triple-A this spring and does deserve another shot in the majors (after pitching poorly for the Braves last year). I don't know that he's a top-shelf talent, but the Pirates can use guys like him.

Jeff Locke, who's only 21 and was a second-round draft pick three years ago, entered this season as the Braves' No. 7 prospect but has fared well in Class A ball.

And Gorkys Hernandez. Ah, Gorkys Hernandez. Like Locke, he's 21. Like Locke, he entered this season with a solid enough reputation. I'm just not convinced that he's ever going to become a great ballplayer rather than a great athlete. Hernandez is quite fast, and yet he's stolen only 10 bases in 18 attempts this season. He's batting .316, but in 52 games he's got 15 walks, 54 strikeouts, and 0 home runs.

I'm not saying Hernandez isn't a good prospect. Everyone says he is. Everyone also says that about Jose Tabata -- who the Pirates got from the Yankees when trading another veteran outfielder -- and ... well, Tabata's still young for his level and still figures as a future major leaguer. I suppose I'm just sympathetic to the fans in Pittsburgh. It's one thing to trade a good player for prospects, but it's another thing to trade for prospects who are probably two or three years away from doing much to help the big club.

On a happier note, McLouth's spot in center field will be filled by Andrew McCutchen, who entered this season as the Pirates' No. 2 prospect. I don't believe he'll make the fans forget McLouth from the get-go, but within a few years he might be as good as McLouth. So the Pirates had surplus at a key position and traded some of that surplus. Maybe this will work out for them.

But for the Braves, what a brilliant move. McLouth's not great but he's quite good, and the Braves do need a quite-good hitter in their lineup. Next best, the Braves are now set in center field for at least the next couple of seasons. McLouth isn't anything like the fielder that Jordan Schafer is, so he can slide over to a corner spot when Schafer's actually ready for the majors, which should happen sometime in 2010 or '11.