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National League

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired OF-R Ryan Ludwick from Padres for a PTBNL or cash considerations. [7/31]

The Pirates are now in the greeting card business, sending insubstantial messages to fans with their moves. With a weak offense and a pitching staff that is less smoke and mirrors than a thin mist and a reflective decal, they have almost no chance of sailing past the Brewers and Cardinals to take the NL Central title. Neither last night’s Derrek Lee deal nor today’s acquisition of Ryan Ludwick does much to change that, so the trades are all about saying, “Hey, we can finish over .500 once in 20 years! Season tickets for next season are on sale now! Flood us with your credulous dollars, because next year we’re playing for all the marbles!” One doubts that the residents of Pittsburgh are that gullible, particularly in a recession, nor should they be: the Royals failed to post a winning record from 1995 to 2002, then went 83-79 despite a negative run differential in 2003; the record was an illusion, and the team hasn’t sniffed .500 since. The Pirates also have a negative differential (-4 at this writing) and our adjusted standings saw them as more deserving of a 44-61 record heading into Sunday than their then-54-51 (they have since dropped Sunday’s game to the Phillies), so sing along with the Talking Heads: same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Then again, per-game attendance in the Steel City is up to its highest level since PNC Park opened in 2001, so maybe the local folks are just happy to pretend. We’ll see how long that lasts.

The good news is that the two moves don’t appear to have cost the Pirates much; we can safely assume that the player to be named later in the Ludwick deal won’t be Jameson Taillon, no matter how well Ludwick does. This mystery box, get-the-Pirates-chase figure aspect to the trade makes it impossible to evaluate its impact on the Padres other than that they have denuded themselves of a portion of Ludwick’s $6.78 million salary for this year and that whoever they play in his stead will almost certainly be better given how poorly the departed has played. If that means more Kyle Blanks, so much the better—the Padres need to see what he can do.

The Pirates do require help in the outfield, at least transiently. Andrew McCutchen keeps on keeping on, but Jose Tabata’s quad injury has kept him out for over a month, and an attempt at rehab games was aborted. Alex Presley’s thumb contusion, which has expressed itself as an ill-defined nerve injury, also seems to have put him on the indefinite-day disabled list. Garrett Jones has had a bipolar season, with the rollercoaster currently stuck in a trough. Matt Diaz has been a four-star disaster film, an anti-lefty specialist who has hit only .274/.314/.337 against his designated nemeses. Xavier Paul has long since confirmed that he is the best fifth outfielder in the game whose name happens to start with the letter X.

Ludwick adds depth to a pool that has been drained but probably not a lot more. He was the leading home run hitter on the Padres, which is a backhanded compliment, akin to saying someone is the smartest member of Congress or the sexiest guy at Baseball Prospectus; by any definition, he has been a replacement-level player this year. A late bloomer, Ludwick was wonderful for the Cardinals back in 2008 but since then has been mediocre, even accounting for the bat-deadening effects of Petco Park, where he has hit just .218/.302/.356; his road rates have been an equally-humble .248/.308/.360 with eight home runs in 311 at-bats. Though a right-handed hitter, Ludwick has had a career-long reverse split, so he won’t be helping with those pesky southpaws that Diaz has left unmolested, but then, that really wasn’t the problem anyway—the Pirates are 18-12 in games started by left-handers and 36-40 the rest of the time.

No doubt playing in San Diego could mess with any hitter’s head, and perhaps there is an argument to be made that being sprung from there will suddenly liberate the Ludwick that has been missing since last July 31, but any such line of thought is rooted in pure speculation and, to quote an old BPish word, wishcasting. The Pirates have added a decent corner defender and a batter who, should he recover his stroke, might be their best power hitter. Unfortunately, calling Ludwick that is descriptive of the symptom, not the cure.  There is still every chance that the Pirates will finish the season under .500 for the 19th year in a row.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired a PTBNL or cash considerations from Pirates for OF-R Ryan Ludwick. [7/31]