Braves acquire McLouth from Pirates
Outfielder dealt to Atlanta for three top prospects
ATLANTA -- When Braves general manager Frank Wren began evaluating trade options to upgrade his outfield, he put All-Star Nate McLouth at the top of his wish list and hoped he might be able to acquire him by the end of July.
Utilizing the Braves' stockpile of strong pitching prospects, Wren was able to obtain McLouth, 27, much earlier than he'd expected and at a comfortable cost that didn't seem to impact the future of his organization.
When Wren announced Wednesday he had obtained McLouth from the Pirates in exchange for right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton, left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, he did so with a sense of excitement.
"McLouth gives us everything that we've been wanting," Wren said. "He gives us another bat in the outfield. He brings us Gold Glove defense, and he brings us speed. He brings a lot to the table."
On a day the Braves made two other major announcements, releasing 305-game winner Tom Glavine and scheduling Tommy Hanson for his Major League pitching debut on Saturday night, the news about McLouth could have the most immediate impact.
When McLouth arrives in Atlanta, he'll provide a significant upgrade to a center-field position that has provided minimal production, primarily due to the rookie struggles of Jordan Schafer.
Schafer was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, and it's unknown when he might return to the Majors. If he regains his promising form before the end of this season, the rookie could be moved to one of the corner outfield positions.
McLouth led all National League center fielders with a .997 fielding percentage last year, and he hasn't committed an error in 45 games this year.
"He's a solid part of a team," Wren said. "He's clearly an All-Star and a Gold Glover at a key position. He's one of those foundation players you love to have."
While earning his first National League All-Star selection and Gold Glove Award last year, McLouth established himself as one of the game's most underrated players. His five-tool skills were on display as he produced a career-high 26 homers and proved successful with 23 of his 26 stolen-base attempts.
Dating back to the start of the 2005 season, McLouth leads the Majors with a 92.8 percent successful stolen-base rate. He has been successful during each of his seven attempts this year.
"It's hard to find guys that can run and throw and field and hit and hit for power," Wren said. "They're tough to find and tough to acquire."
The three-year, $15.6 million contract that McLouth signed in February made him even more attractive to the Braves. The outfielder is making $2 million this year, and he's locked in to make $4.5 million in 2010. After providing a $6.5 million salary in 2011, the Braves will have the option of paying him $10.65 million in 2012.
"He's a guy we'll control for four years, this year and three more," Wren said. "We just felt like he was the ideal player for us."
When Pirates general manager Neal Huntington called McLouth about the trade, he said the outfielder reacted in a surprised manner.
"This is one of those decisions that is not an easy one, that you spend a lot of time contemplating, because Nate McLouth is the type of person and the type of player that we would ideally try to build around," Huntington said.
When the Braves nearly obtained Jason Bay before last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Huntington accepted a deal that included both Morton and Locke. Pirates ownership later blocked the deal because they were looking for Major League-ready talent.
With Morton, the Pirates gain an appealing right-hander, who has increased his stock while going 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts with Gwinnett this year. If he can gain a consistent level of confidence, the 25-year-old hurler has the potential to find success at the big league level.
There was some perception among talent evaluators that Locke and Hernandez have recently stalled during their development at the Minor League level.
While Hernandez has hit .316 with Double-A Mississippi this year, he has recorded a .387 slugging percentage and proven successful with just 10 of his 18 stolen-base attempts.
But the thin 21-year-old outfielder's power could increase as he matures and gets more comfortable.
Once regarded as one of top pitching prospects in the Braves' organization, Locke has gone 1-4 with a 5.56 ERA in 10 starts with advanced Class A Myrtle Beach. The 21-year-old left-hander has registered 43 strikeouts and issued 26 walks in 45 2/3 innings.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.