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Nationals and Pirates swap Milledge for Morgan

Chico Harlan of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals and Pirates have agreed to a four-player trade that sends Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh with Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett heading to Washington.

Washington has soured on Milledge since acquiring him two years ago, in large part because of his struggles defensively in center field, and Morgan should be a massive upgrade there. However, the trade still strikes me as a good move for Pittsburgh, who had been playing Morgan in left field because Andrew McCutchen’s presence means that they won’t need a center fielder for the next decade or so.

Morgan’s defense makes him an asset wherever he’s playing, but he’s 28 years old and his career .286/.351/.376 line doesn’t look all that great from a corner spot. For all the talk of Milledge being a huge disappointment he’s hit .261/.326/.400 to basically match Morgan’s production offensively, and at 24 years old has plenty of room to improve at the plate after posting stronger numbers in the minors.

Plus, the Pirates also pick up a decent reliever in Hanrahan, who has been yanked back and forth from the Nationals’ closer role amid talk of him not being able to handle ninth-inning duties mentally. Whether or not that’s true is unclear and certainly his 7.71 ERA this season is ugly, but with a 35/14 K/BB ratio and just three homers allowed in 32.2 innings he hasn’t pitched nearly that poorly and can be a capable setup man.

Burnett was once thought of as a top prospect, but arm injuries and poor strikeout rates have the 26-year-old southpaw looking like a mediocre middle reliever or long man at this point. Pittsburgh did well to sell high on him while his ERA is in the 3.00s, and cashing in Morgan with his value at an all-time high makes sense too. On the flip side, Washington is selling both Milledge and Hanrahan for pennies on the dollar.

Morgan is a nice all-around player, but will be on the wrong side of 30 by the time the Nationals are ready to contend and in the meantime they’ve sold low on a 24-year-old who for all his issues still has lots of upside. Hanrahan and Burnett changing sides swings the deal a little further in Pittsburgh’s favor, but ultimately the trade hinges on Milledge’s ability to get his career on track and live up to at least some of the hype.