Left fielder Nyjer Morgan, a clubhouse and fan favorite, along with left-handed reliever Sean Burnett were dealt to Washington on Tuesday afternoon in exchange for outfielder Lastings Milledge and righty Joel Hanrahan. Trade discussions between the Nationals and Pirates have been ongoing for a while now, as Washington has been actively pursuing Morgan as a center fielder and leadoff hitter.
The deal was finalized hours after the Pirates traded infielder/outfielder Eric Hinske to the Yankees for two Minor Leaguers and only four weeks after the Pirates dealt away Nate McLouth.
While the shock of the deal still lingered in the clubhouse, Pirates management focused not on the loss, but the gain.
"The bottom line for us is upside and potential," general manager Neal Huntington said. "The two players we are getting in return are guys that we think can play quality roles for us as we return to winning baseball here in Pittsburgh. Both players, we feel, have the upside to be above-average Major League players, and that's why the trade happened."
Manager John Russell's words were much the same.
"The upside that we're gaining is something that we can't pass up," Russell said. "These two players have a chance to be very good for us. Not to take anything away from Nyjer or Sean, but these guys we really feel like can help us win not only today, but for many years to come."
The Pirates aren't alone in their intrigue with Milledge. A first-round Draft pick back in 2003, Milledge's potential has been hyped ever since. However, hampered by some on-field and off-field issues that have had both the Mets and Nationals questioning whether the 24-year-old outfielder will allow himself to reach his potential, Milledge still has not lived up to external expectations.
Regarding Milledge's past issues and perceived lack of maturity, Huntington said that the exhaustive work the Pirates did before agreeing to this deal has him unconcerned about the potential for any future problems.
"If there were some issues, there's no way we would have acquired this player," Huntington said. "He can be challenging at times, but there are a lot of players in baseball that can be challenging. With some maturity, with some guidance, with some direction, we might have ourselves a pretty good player here. It's a chance we were willing to take."
Milledge has been working back to full health after breaking his right index finger and having surgery back in mid-May. He just began his rehab work with the Gulf Coast League Nats over the weekend, playing his third game down there on Monday. He'll continue rehabbing in the GCL before joining Triple-A Indianapolis in seven to 10 days to continue his rehab work.
Though Milledge has appeared in only seven games for Washington this season, he does actually have significantly more Major League experience than Morgan. In 897 Major League at-bats, Milledge has a .261 average, 25 homers and 113 RBIs. In 2008, which marked his first full season in the Majors, Milledge hit .268 with 14 homers, 61 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.
"I saw Lastings Milledge play in the Minor Leagues," Russell said, "and he's a tremendously talented player."
Huntington would not guarantee whether Milledge would join the Pirates immediately after completing his rehab work, noting that it all will depend on how Milledge performs in Triple-A. However, it's likely that he will.
The Pirates will waste no time waiting on Hanrahan, though, as the 27-year-old right-hander will join the Major League club immediately, likely on Wednesday. He will jump into a middle relief role similar to the one he had with Washington, though the Pirates hope to see him pitch his way into a larger role down the road.
Hanrahan has saved 14 games for the Nationals over the last two seasons, though he lost the closer's job twice because he was being hit hard. In 115 Major League appearances (11 starts), Hanrahan is 11-9 with a 5.30 ERA. He has 171 strikeouts in 168 innings.
"I love the arm," Russell said. "It's electric stuff. It's the type of stuff that can be very dominant. It's the type of stuff where we look for him to work his way into the back end of the bullpen."
Though he profiles as having late-inning potential, Hanrahan has battled serious command issues this season. In 34 games, he's give up 28 earned runs in 32 2/3 innings.
"He has struggled this year. There is no question about it," Huntington said. "He's given up some hits, hasn't commanded the strike zone as well as he has expected. Like Milledge, there is some risk here. But the upside is a back-end power reliever."
Said Hanrahan: "Obviously, things haven't gone the best here this year so far, and it's a fresh start over there. So I'm looking forward to that. It never really hurts to get a change of scenery, and it's good to know that somebody else likes you, even when you're not doing your best right now. That's a positive."
On the other side, the Pirates dealt away two players that had never known any other organization. Morgan (33rd round in 2002) and Burnett (first round in 2000) were both drafted by the Pirates.
Morgan moves to Washington after establishing himself as an everyday player with Pittsburgh this season. After splitting time between Pittsburgh and Triple-A in 2008, Morgan solidified himself as the team's starting left fielder with a torrid start to the season. Though he has cooled off a bit since, Morgan leaves having hit .277 with 39 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and 27 RBIs this year.
"Basically being a 33rd rounder, I'm not even supposed to be here," Morgan said on Tuesday. "In my eyes, to be able to open up somebody's eyes and knowing that they want me to be their guy is a beautiful thing. It's unfortunate that I have to leave the black and gold. I loved being here.
"I just thank you very much Pittsburgh for just embracing me," he continued. "I've built a lot of relationships with guys here. It's the city of champions, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it."
While Morgan had somewhat braced for Tuesday's news since his name had been floating in the rumor mills for a few days now, Burnett was caught totally off guard by his inclusion in the deal.
"I was shocked," Burnett said. "I came to the ballpark expecting to play tonight, heard some rumors from some of the guys and after an hour of playing cards, it was official."
After moving to the bullpen last season, Burnett, 26, established himself as a fairly reliable left-handed reliever. Burnett finished with an overall 3.06 ERA in 38 appearances this season and made himself more marketable by improving his ability to get right-handed hitters out.
Like Morgan, Burnett expressed gratitude that another team wanted him, but a bitterness in having to say good-bye.
"This is tough. This is all I know," he said. "It's definitely tough and shocking, and I don't know if it's all sunk in yet. That's the hardest part, the relationships you build for nine years and all the struggles. They stuck with me. There have been some tears already."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.