What's Dave Littlefield Up To?
The Pirates' general manager, Dave Littlefield, was fairly busy during the recent Winter Meetings in Dallas, either making, or laying the groundwork for the following deals:
He traded disappointing LHP Mark Redman (and all of his 4.5 million dollar salary) to Kansas City for two minor league pitching prospects, RHPs Jonah Bayliss and Chad Blackwell.
He traded INF/OF Rob Mackowiak to Chicago for LHP Damaso Marte, one of the better setup men in the majors.
He released disappointing Ty Wigginton, his Opening Day starter at 3B, to make room for Victor Santos, a journeyman RHP taken in the Rule 5 Draft.
He appears to have agreed to a one year deal with 41 year-old RHP Roberto Hernandez, who's coming off a pretty good season with the Mets.
But the deal that has everyone talking was the one announced Thursday, when the Bucs made it official: they had traded LHP Dave Williams, who battled back from shoulder surgery in 2002 to post the best record of any member of the Bucs' Opening Day starting rotation, for Cincinnati Reds 1B Sean Casey, a Pittsburgh native.
Now Sean Casey is, by all accounts, a genuinely nice guy, a team leader and a great clubhouse presence. Being a hometown boy, he's the perfect goodwill ambassador for the team. On the field, he's a lifetime .305 hitter and the best defensive first baseman the Pirates have had since Kevin Young still had knees. And yet...
He'll also be thirty-two by the end of the '06 season, and a free agent. While he does hit for average, in eight full seasons in the majors, he's only hit twenty or more HRs three times, never more than twenty-five, and he hit nine last year (playing with a shoulder injury that Littlefield had better pray has healed). He's never had one hundred RBI in a single year (he has had ninety-nine a couple of times). And he'll be payed eight-and-one-half million dollars in '06 (the Reds are picking up some of that). And it isn't as if the Pirates didn't have other options at first base.
There's hot prospect Brad Eldred, who hit twelve HRs and had twenty-seven RBI in one-hundred-ninety at bats last year. Of course he also hit just .221 and struck out seventy-seven times, so maybe he's not quite ready yet. But what about Craig Wilson?
Last year was a lost year for Craig. He got off to a slow start, then tore a muscle in his left hand and ended up on the disabled list. Less than a week after he was re-activated from the DL. he was hit by a pitch in the same hand, suffered a broken finger and it was back on the DL. Still, some comparisons are possible:
In one-hundred-ninety-seven at bats last year Craig had five HR, twenty-two RBI and a .264 BA. And he strikes out a lot: sixty-nine times compared to forty-eight times in five-hundred-twenty-nine AB for Casey. But his slugging percentage (.421) was about the same as Casey's (.423), while his on-base-percentage (.387) was higher than Casey's (.371). And while Casey is easily the better of the two defensively, it would be interesting to see what Craig could do if he were allowed to concentrate on one position instead of having to check the lineup card to see which glove he needs that day. And he did hit twenty-nine HRs and had eighty-two RBI in '04.
Now I'm not suggesting that Craig Wilson is the long-term answer for the Pirates at first base; Brad Eldred is (we hope). But neither is Sean Casey. Which is why I can't figure out why Littlefield, whose Grail is pitching, would trade his most successful starter (even if he was the fifth starter) for a player who (hopefully, if Eldred develops as planned) will be a one year rental. Especially given the Pirates' desperation at third base and in right field.