|Tuesday, July 22
Updated: July 23, 12:37 PM ET
Pirates continue to clean house
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs got a boost for the NL Central stretch drive, acquiring center fielder Kenny Lofton and third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night for infielder Jose Hernandez and two minor leaguers.
The trade, announced minutes after the Pirates' 2-0 loss to NL Central leader Houston, reunites Lofton with Dusty Baker, his manager in San Francisco last season. The Cubs will be his seventh major league team.
Chicago has sought a center fielder since Corey Patterson was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament earlier this month. They also get an effective power hitter in Ramirez, who led the Pirates with 67 RBI, without significantly denting their starting lineup.
"In Ramirez, we obviously needed a third baseman and in Kenny Lofton we got a quality leadoff man,'' Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Ramirez is a guy who has quietly knocked in a lot of runs this year. He's battled some inconsistencies but he's a good, young player.
"When you lose a guy like Corey Patterson, it's tough to replace, but Lofton is a guy who fits the bill.''
Lofton has been slumping, with four hits in 21 at-bats, but is hitting .277 and remains an excellent center fielder. Ramirez leads all NL third basemen with 23 errors, but has 250 RBI in the last 2½ seasons.
"They're a good team and with Sammy and Moises there -- they're Dominicans, like me -- I hope they'll help take me to the next level,'' said Ramirez, who is batting .280.
The Pirates, making their second deal of the day and third in three days, also get minor league pitcher Matt Bruback and a player to be named. Pittsburgh also gave up a small amount of cash. Bruback is 6-8 with a 3.96 ERA at Triple-A Iowa.
Pittsburgh has dealt two regulars and its two top relievers, including All-Star Mike Williams, since Sunday as general manager Dave Littlefield begins to rebuild a team headed for its 11th consecutive losing season. The Pirates dealt left-hander Scott Sauerbeck to the Boston Red Sox earlier Tuesday.
The Pirates are looking to unload salaries -- Ramirez is due to make $6 million next season -- and restock their organization with younger, lower-priced players who can reach the majors within a year or two.
"We've got to quit building just to get to .500,'' Littlefield said.
Hernandez, who began the year with the Rockies, is making $1 million. He is leading the NL with 121 strikeouts while hitting .227 with 10 homers and 36 RBI. He figures to replace Ramirez as the Pirates' starting third baseman.
The Pirates figure to make more deals before the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers.
Littlefield, however, said the Pirates must start stockpiling young players so they can try to compete for championships, not just to be a fringe player in division races.
The Pirates also have financial concerns, with owner Kevin McClatchy saying they could lose $30 million since 2001 by the end of this season.
"You don't like to trade a player like Ramirez who has come up through their system and performed like he did, but we need better talent and more financial flexibility,'' Littlefield said. "We need a lot more players to help us get to where we want to be.''