I remember the Nate McLouth trade vividly, even if it was six years ago. I was eating dinner at Olive Garden – mistake number one – when I glanced at my Blackberry and saw the Braves had acquired Nate McLouth for three minor league prospects. I was excited – mistake number two – that Atlanta had seemingly sured up center field after years of struggling in the post-Andruw-Jones era.
Not many around baseball really figured McLouth was available, and that's why it surprised so many when the trade went down in early June. Why didn't the Pirates check around with other teams before shipping the slugging outfielder to the Braves? The return of Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke was solid but hardly earth-shattering. McLouth had also signed a three-year extension worth $16M just a few months earlier, so his sudden departure confused many in the Steel City.
McLouth was pretty decent in his first half-season with the Braves. He hit .257/.354/.419 with serviceable defense and a respectable 1.7 bWAR over 84 games.
The wheels completely fell off in 2010. He hit .190/.298/.322 over 82 games, which was so bad that it meant guys like Melky Cabrera, Rick Ankiel and Gregor Blanco would get semi-regular starts in center field down the stretch. McLouth's WAR was -2.7 that year, making him one of the worst players in baseball. We all remember just how bad Melky was, and I think that speaks volumes about McLouth.
The 2011 campaign was equally poor for the now-30-year-old, who was now in the final year of his contract. He batted .228 with a .667 OPS over 81 games. His option was declined in the offseason. Not even Frank Wren would take on that contract.
Gorkys Hernandez was probably considered the biggest haul at the time of the deal, though he's done next to nothing since the deal.
Charlie Morton has dealt with injuries throughout most of his career, but he's turned into a decent back-end starter since joining Pittsburgh in mid-2009. He's never thrown more than 175 innings in any season, his career 4.45 ERA and 4.10 FIP are nothing to lose sleep about, his strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't even 2/1, yet he has somehow managed to hang around.
Jeff Locke served as a spot-starter for the Bucs in 2011 and 2012 as he bounced back and forth from the minor leagues. His first real taste of the big leagues came in 2013 when he posted a respectable-ish 1.3 WAR season while making 30 starts. Locke's career ERA is 4.18 and his FIP is a tad worse at 4.30. Now 27, Locke, like Morton, is a decent back-end option who never quite reached his potential.
Braves with McLouth over 250 games: -1.0 bWAR/0.6 fWAR*
Pirates with Locke, Morton, Hernandez since 2011: 0.9 bWAR/7.8 fWAR
*bWAR = Baseball-Reference.com's WAR formula; fWAR = Fangraphs.com's WAR formula.
Looking back on the trade, the Pirates clearly came out ahead, though Hernandez turning into a dud when many thought he could be a starting center fielder prevented this from really hurting Atlanta. FanGraphs thinks much higher of Morton than Baseball-Reference does, hence the drastic split in wins between the two sites.
The Braves shouldn't really be faulted for acquiring McLouth at the time; similar to what B.J. Upton did, there really weren't any obvious warning signs that his production was about to fall off a cliff. It just didn't work out, and while the front office lost a couple of decent pitchers in the shuffle, it wasn't anything crazy. The Braves should feel lucky this trade didn't hurt more.