Bucs acquire Adam LaRoche from Braves
The deal isn't final, but the 27-year-old power hitter is expected to join the team.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Spring training was only a month away, and still the Pittsburgh Pirates hadn't made one significant improvement to a 95-loss team. All-Star outfielder Jason Bay couldn't help but be discouraged.
Then the Pirates unexpectedly finalized the trade they'd talked about for two months but never could seem to complete: prying power hitter Adam LaRoche away from the Atlanta Braves.
"You were looking at going with the same guys again and thinking 'OK, we've got to do what we've got to do,"' Bay said, admittedly not excited about the idea. "Then, all of a sudden, I'm not going to say one guy changes the whole outlook, but it definitely puts things in a much more positive light."
The teams have not yet announced the LaRoche-for-Mike Gonzalez trade, pending the completion of physicals. Gonzalez, one of the majors' top left-handed relievers, sat out the final five weeks of last season with elbow tendinitis but has resumed throwing.
Still, the Pirates players working out Thursday at PNC Park couldn't hide their enthusiasm for the deal, and manager Jim Tracy is already talking to Bay about batting order combinations.
The Pirates were a predominantly right-handed hitting team last season, but putting the left-handed LaRoche (.285, 32 homers, 90 RBIs) between NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez (.344, six homers, 85 RBIs) and Bay (.286, 35 homers, 109 RBIs) provides a much different look.
To help bottom of lineup
The trade should also help the bottom of the lineup. The projected No. 7 hitter, catcher Ronny Paulino, hit .310 as a rookie and second baseman Jose Castillo hit .308 batting eighth compared to .228 batting seventh.
"I think it makes a huge difference," Bay said. "Obviously, it will help with the runs and all that, but the big thing is the way other teams have to approach you. It's a totally different mentality having that left-handed bat in there. It matches us up better against other teams and other pitchers."
All but 64 of Bay's 570 at-bats came as a cleanup hitter -- the others were in the No. 3 spot. But he has never been a fan of hitting fourth, and is eager to drop to fifth.
"There were a few situations, especially toward the latter part of the season, where Freddy and I weren't getting pitched to that much and teams were getting away with it," Bay said. "With him [LaRoche] in there, we'll have more guys in scoring position and it's a big trickle-down effect. That's huge for us."
LaRoche still must show he can produce while hitting higher in the order. He mostly hit seventh for the Braves and, during his three-season career, has had a higher average the lower he drops in the order.
Last season, he hit .236 with nine homers in 140 at-bats hitting fifth but had a .310 average and 15 homers in 232 at-bats hitting seventh. He hit .367 in 30 at-bats at No. 8.
For his career, he has a .255 average batting fourth, .260 hitting fifth, .263 hitting sixth and .319 hitting seventh.
Struggled with men on base
Also, he has been much better with the bases empty than with runners in scoring position. Twenty-four of his 32 homers last season came with no one on base, and he had only four homers in 122 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Not that anybody in the Pirates' clubhouse wants to undo the trade. Bay likes how the 27-year-old LaRoche fits into a lineup that doesn't figure to have a single player in his 30s. Only one projected starting pitcher is over 25.
"That bodes well for the clubhouse as well as the lineup," Bay said.
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