Pirates shuffle outfield in pair of deals

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates, swapping outfielders at a rapid rate for the second successive season, sent starting left fielder Nyjer Morgan to the Washington Nationals in a four-player deal involving outfielder Lastings Milledge and also shipped backup Eric Hinske to the Yankees on Tuesday.

The Pirates, spurred to trade because their farm system has been unproductive, acquired Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan from the Nationals for the fleet Morgan and left-handed reliever Sean Burnett, a former first-round draft pick.

Hinske, the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year, went to the Yankees for minor league right-hander Casey Erickson and outfielder Eric Fryer. The Yankees also get about $400,000 to help pay the remainder of Hinske's $1.5 million salary.

Just as they did last season by dealing Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, the Pirates traded two of their three starting outfielders before Aug. 1. They sent former NL All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth to Atlanta on June 4 for pitcher Charlie Morton and two other prospects.

Like the McLouth trade, these deals weren't popular with players who have seen regular after regular traded -- Aramis Ramirez, Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, Bay, Nady -- since 2004 with the Pirates getting little in return. The Pirates are on a pace for a major league-record 17th consecutive losing season.

"What's so shocking is we're [six] games out and we've lost three of our everyday players," said shortstop Jack Wilson, a nine-year veteran who could be traded this month. "It's tough for the guys who've been here and have seen these trades happen and absolutely do nothing. I've seen these trades two or three times a year and we still haven't had a winning season."

Morgan, who turns 29 on Thursday, was traded less than halfway through a promising first season as a starter. He is hitting .277 with two homers and 27 RBIs, only four fewer than No. 3 hitter Freddy Sanchez, and has 18 steals, although he has been thrown out 10 times.

"We see him as a speed-type of player that can play above-average defense for us in center field, give us a top-of-the-lineup bat that can create a little havoc on the basepaths and get you a stolen base when you need it," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "It gives us the defensive center fielder we've been missing here."

Milledge, a former top Mets prospect, hit .167 in only seven games before being sent to the minors and has spent much of the season rehabilitating a broken right ring finger that required surgery in May. He is expected to join Triple-A Indianapolis within a week to 10 days.

Milledge, 24, has 25 homers in 897 career at-bats, but has been set back by a broken right hand and finger, sore foot and groin strain. He hit .268 with 14 homers, 61 RBIs and 24 doubles in 138 games last season, earning him a spot on the cover of the Nationals' media guide.

Still, he proved to be a major disappointment to a team that traded two regulars, catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church, to the Mets for him in November 2007.

Criticized by some Mets players for not behaving like a major leaguer, Milledge angered the Nationals by twice being late for meetings.

"As always, these trades are not easy," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "There's always risks. If there wasn't some issues, there's no way we acquire a player of this upside and potential."

Hanrahan is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in 34 games -- he was demoted from the closer's job -- and has a 5.30 ERA in 115 career games. The 27-year-old right-hander will join the Pirates on Wednesday.

Burnett, Pittsburgh's top pick in 2000, is 1-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 38 games. The 26-year-old has pitched in 96 games the last two seasons.

The 31-year-old Hinske hit .255 in 106 at-bats with nine doubles, one homer and 11 RBIs, playing right field, first base and third base. Hinske, 8 for 24 as a pinch hitter, has been disappointed by a lack of playing time.

Through June 29 last year, he had 13 home runs en route to a 20-home run season with the AL champion Rays. He won the rookie award with Toronto in 2002, when he hit .279 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, and was a member of Boston's World Series championship team in 2007.

"He's a pro. He's been through the trenches in the AL East," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "There's a lot of benefits to him. He knows his role."

The 23-year-old Erickson was 3-3 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts and 18 relief appearances at Class A Charleston this season. Fryer, also 23, hit .250 with 11 doubles, two homers, 24 RBIs and 11 steals for Class A Tampa after leading the South Atlantic League with a .335 average last year for West Virginia. He was obtained by the Yankees from the Milwaukee Brewers in February for left-hander Chase Wright.

Pittsburgh also purchased the contract of 28-year-old outfielder Garrett Jones from Indianapolis, where he hit .307 with 18 doubles, 12 homers, 48 RBIs and 14 steals.