The trade was officially announced in the seventh inning of Wednesday's 8-7 win over the Brewers, though speculation that LaRoche was on his way out surfaced earlier in the day, when the Pirates did not post their lineup until less than an hour before the 12:35 p.m. ET scheduled first pitch. Once it was posted, LaRoche was not in it.
But unlike the trades Pittsburgh made earlier this summer -- sending Nate McLouth to Atlanta and Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to Washington -- Wednesday's deal wasn't nearly as surprising. Yes, there hadn't seemed to have been much in the way of outside interest in LaRoche lately, but there was no question that the Pirates were willing to deal him if given a modest return.
"We heard so much about Jack and Freddy and some other guys the last couple weeks, that I really hadn't heard my name for a while," LaRoche said after the deal. "I should have known that that's when it sneaks up and gets you."
Though LaRoche had reiterated his desire to stay in Pittsburgh and play alongside his brother, Andy, the Pirates had not made any attempts at signing him to a contract extension after talks along those lines fizzled before the '08 season. With LaRoche sitting months away from the free-agent market and his salary already the second highest on the team, there was no expectation that the Bucs would make a run at him this winter.
Had the Pirates lost him to free agency, they would have received nothing in return. The organization was also unlikely to risk offering him arbitration this winter -- the one way that Pittsburgh could have possibly received a compensation Draft pick for losing LaRoche -- because the Bucs would then have been locked in to pay him a salary likely close to $8 million next season had he accepted the offer.
Even still, with his season numbers as they are right now, LaRoche is not sure to even be a Type B free agent, which means that there might not have even been an option for compensation.
"At times, it was obviously very good," general manager Neal Huntington said of LaRoche's two-plus years in Pittsburgh. "At times, it was a struggle for him. He's a great person and you knew what you were going to get every day. He didn't show a lot of energy. He didn't show a lot of passion and fire. But this is a guy that cared a lot and did a lot of good things in the clubhouse."
Huntington characterized the talks with Boston as on-again, off-again for the past few weeks. Though the Red Sox have an All-Star first baseman in Kevin Youkilis, they were looking for a backup. There is concern that Mike Lowell's hip problems will linger for the rest of the year, and with LaRoche, Boston can now move Youkilis to third as needed.
LaRoche, who will be reunited with former Pirates teammate Jason Bay and former Braves teammate John Smoltz, among others, will otherwise be used as a bench player.
"I can think of a lot worse places to go," LaRoche said. "It's nice to be back in the hunt with somebody. I've missed that. That's going to be a blast."
LaRoche actually came to the park on Wednesday morning preparing to be dealt after receiving a text message from Bay around midnight on Tuesday tipping him off to the possibility. LaRoche was in the dugout when Huntington then went down to inform him of the trade in the sixth inning.
After talking with Huntington, LaRoche opted to stay on the bench for the rest of the game and joined his now former teammates in a mob to great Brandon Moss at home plate after his walk-off homer.
"That was pretty neat to be able to go out there and share in that," LaRoche said. "Just get to visit with them a little bit more and watch Andy be in the same uniform one more time. This has been my family for three years. I've met some guys here that I'll be in touch with for the rest of my life."
LaRoche leaves Pittsburgh two and a half years after he was acquired from Atlanta. He combined to hit .265 with 58 homers and 213 RBIs in 375 games. He was batting .247 with a team-high 12 homers and 40 RBIs at the time of the deal.
In return, the Pirates received Diaz, a Double-A shortstop, and Strickland, a low Class A starter. Why act now, with more than a week remaining before the Trade Deadline?
"We feel like this is the best offer we had to date," Huntington answered. "We felt like this was the right time and was the right return for us. We're still in the talent-accumulation mode, and with the deals we had on the table, these were the players we liked the best."
Diaz, 22, is a strong defensive player, though there are questions about how his bat will project in the Majors. He has hit .253 with 24 RBIs in 76 Double-A games this season but has been assigned to join the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate.
"The glove is ready to go almost at any level," Huntington said. "We're going to challenge the bat a little bit. He's got great hands. He's got good range. He's got a strong and accurate arm. Like a lot of young players, there are some inconsistencies with it. We've got to do some cleaning up on his footwork and the focus."
Though the Pirates' glaring need has been to add a middle infielder in the high Minor League level since Jack Wilson and/or Freddy Sanchez could very likely be gone by the start of next season or the end of next week, Huntington said this deal was not done with that in mind.
In fact, it's unlikely that Diaz would be ready to make the step to the Majors at the beginning of next season, considering the Pirates would only get six weeks to see how he handles the bat in Triple-A.
Strickland, a 20-year-old righty selected in the 18th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is 5-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts) at the Class A level this season. He pitched all of '08 in the short-season New York-Penn League.
"With Hunter Strickland, we've got a pitcher that is a type of pitcher we're looking for out of the Draft," Huntington said. "He has a good frame, good delivery, good athleticism, clean arm action and he's got the making of three pitches."
Strickland is staying in the South Atlantic League after being assigned to Class A West Virginia, where he will join the Power's rotation.
Wednesday's deal is likely not to be the last for the Pirates this month. Huntington has had special assistant Larry Corrigan watching the Mariners recently, which could be a prelude to a deal with Seattle in the coming days. The Mariners have been said to have had interest in both Wilson and Sanchez at times this summer.
John Grabow is also a potential candidate to head elsewhere, as he represents one of the top left-handed relievers available and has garnered interest from contending teams looking to shore up their bullpen.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less