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Washington Nationals Trade Potential for Production: Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett

The Washington Nationals announced that they have traded OF Lastings Milledge and RHRP Joel Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Nyjer Morgan and LHRP Sean Burnett.

This is a deal that sacrifices what was once considered key pieces of the Nationals' future in order to improve the product on the field today.

Morgan, who turns 29 on Thursday, broke into the big leagues in 2007 at the age of 26. Since then, in 614 plate appearances, he has compiled a lifetime .286/.351/.376 line with 3 home runs and 41 RBI. It's possible he's a late bloomer, and it's also possible that the Nats are trading for him in the middle of his peak season.

Morgan is a plus defender, and will likely take over in center field -- though he has primarily played left field for the Bucs this season. He has very good speed, as his 18 stolen bases and defensive metrics will attest to, but he also leads the NL in caught stealing with 10.
Clearly, the Nats traded the possible upside of Milledge's potential for Morgan's current production. It's a dicey move to be sure, but the team apparently has grown tired of Milledge's mood swings and lack of preparation, making the Nats the second organization to do so in two seasons.

Burnett is a 26-year old left handed reliever. He has excelled so far this season as a lefty out of the pen. In 38 appearances, covering 34.1 IP, his splits have been very good (.189/.254/.396 v. LHB; .211/.357/.298 v. RHB), and has a 3/1 K/BB rate against lefties.

A failed starter, Burnett might have found his niche in the pen.

It's disappointing to see the team give up on Milledge and Hanrahan. Both players have many talents, but did not succeed the way the team envisioned this season.

Milledge should settle into left field for the Pirates and give them some pop and speed in that position, and Hanrahan -- if he can find the right mentor to bring out what's best in him -- will give them another big arm in the pen.

Here's the press release:


The Washington Nationals today acquired outfielder Nyjer Morgan and left-handed pitcher Sean Burnett from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for outfielder Lastings Milledge and right-handed pitcher Joel Hanrahan. Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

The 28 year-old Morgan was batting .277 (77-for-278) with six doubles, five triples, two home runs and 27 RBI in 71 games with Pittsburgh prior to the trade. Thanks to a career-high 29 walks and a .351 on-base percentage, Morgan has scored 39 runs this season, or two fewer than his career total in 86 games entering 2009. His five triples rank among NL (tied for second) and MLB (tied for third) leaders. Morgan departs despite pacing the Pirates in batting (.322, 66-for-205) against right-handed pitchers in 2009.

Morgan is blessed with the brand of speed that the Nationals were lacking both on the basepaths and in the outfield. Morgan currently ranks fifth in the National League with 18 stolen bases, and his eight swipes in June are just one less than the nine registered by Washington this month. Morgan played primarily left field for the Pirates. He currently leads all MLB left fielders in total chances per 9.0 innings and range factor per game.

Morgan’s patience (3.9 pitches seen per plate appearance) and batting eye (career-best walk ratio of one base on balls per 11.1 plate appearances) have both played a role in his breakout 2009 season.

Burnett, 26, was 1-2 with six holds, one save and a 3.06 ERA (11 ER/32.1 IP) in a team-leading 38 appearances for Pittsburgh at the time of the trade. A two-time (2001 and 2002) Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Burnett is 7-8 with 14 holds, one save and a 4.54 ERA (81 ER/160.2 IP) in 109 games (13 starts) spanning three big league seasons with Pittsburgh.

Burnett sports a .200 (22-for-110) batting average against in 2009, and has been nearly equally effective against left-handed batters (.189, 10-for-53, four walks) as those that hit from the right side (.211, 12-for-57, one home run). Burnett shifted exclusively to relief in 2008 and in 96 appearances since, has neutralized opposing left-handed batters with a stingy .178 (23-for-129) batting average against.

The Pirates’ No. 1 selection (19th overall) in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Burnett is currently tied for eighth in the National League having allowed only four of 28 inherited baserunners to score. His .345 slugging percentage against is .067 better than the NL average of .412.

Milledge, 24, went 4-for-24 (.167) with one RBI and one walk in seven games with Washington this season.

The 27 year-old Hanrahan finished 0-3 with five saves (10 save opportunities) and a 7.71 ERA (28 ER/32.2 IP) in 34 appearances with the Nationals in 2009.