By John Perrotto
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington did what he could to beef up his team’s anemic offense in the hours leading up to the non-waiver trading deadline.
Now the question is whether the moves will help the Pirates enough to stay in the National League Central race, especially in light of them averaging just 3.83 runs a game.
The Pirates acquired first baseman Derrek Lee from Baltimore late Saturday night in a trade for minor-league first baseman Aaron Baker then got outfielder Ryan Ludwick from San Diego just before the 4 p.m. Sunday deadline for making trades without securing waivers in a deal for a player to be named or cash considerations.
Lee had a memorable debut in Monday night’s 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park as he became the first player to homer twice in his first game with the Pirates since Shawon Dunston in 1997 while going 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Ludwick went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
Neither Lee nor Ludwick have had particularly good seasons. Lee hit .246 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs in 85 games with the Orioles with a .302 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage while Ludwick hit .238 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in 101 games for the Padres with a .301 OBP and a .373 slugging percentage.
Huntington says he is banking on a couple factors in his hopes that Lee and Ludwick can be big producers for a club that has fallen from a tie for first place in the NL Central nine days ago to 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the division race.
Huntington feels that switching back to the NL will help Lee, who spent the first 14 seasons of his career in the senior circuit until signing with Baltimore last winter as a free agent, and that Ludwick will benefit from moving out of the Padres’ spacious Petco Park, which depresses scoring more than any other stadium in the major leagues.
Lee and Ludwick both have their drawbacks, though. They are on the downside of their career as Lee is 35 and Ludwick is 33. Both are right-handed batters who will be playing their home games at PNC Park, which has long proven to be a tough place to hit for those who bat from that side of the plate.
After surveying a number of scouts and front office types from various major-league organizations, the consensus is that Lee could help the Pirates make a push but expecting Ludwick to be a big contributor is more of a leap of faith.
Here is how one AL front office type broke down Lee: “I think he still has a lot of life in his bat. He makes hard contact, he crushes mistakes over the heart of the plate and his bat is still quick enough to pull the ball if someone tries to beat him inside. His reflexes are starting to slow a little to the point where the real hard throwers, the guys throwing 96 and 97, can get the fastball by him. His eye at the plate is still good and he spits on a lot of borderline pitches because he knows the strike zone so well.”
This was one NL scout’s assessment of Ludwick: “I really think he’s at the end of the line as far as being an everyday player. He might squeeze out another couple of years as a bench player but he isn’t much of a threat anymore. He has a lot of holes in his swing and once he gets to two strikes he’s helpless because a pitcher can spin any off-speed pitch he wants near the plate and the guy will swing at it and miss.”
John Perrotto has been covering the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 24 years. He can be followed on twitter @jperrotto