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McLouth trade brings clubhouse backlash
Players question Pirates' management after latest jettisoned All-Star
Friday, June 05, 2009

In one corner of the Pirates' clubhouse at PNC Park, the small, circular metal table between the stalls of relievers Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez had a candle lit atop it, adorned by the No. 13 of Nate McLouth and an accompanying photo of him in full uniform.

A bit dramatic?

Not by design: McLouth was that duo's card-playing partner on that table, and he was, of course, traded Wednesday night to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects. There almost always was a candle there.

"We'll miss him," Burnett said.

The reaction in other corners was far more pointed.

"There ain't a guy in here who ain't [ticked] off about it," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "They might be trying to hide it or whatever, but ... hey, you get a guy's loved by everybody, not just in this clubhouse but in the community, who does everything you could want a guy to do, a perfect guy to be a leader ..."

LaRoche paused.

"It's kind of like being with your platoon in a battle, and guys keep dropping around you. You keep hanging on, hanging on, and you've got to figure: How much longer till you sink?"

He flicked his hand.

"It's fine. Heck with it. We're not the GM. We don't run the team. If they feel like it's the best move for three or four years from now, great. Unfortunately, that does me no good. I've still got to be in here telling guys it's going to be fine with Nate gone. Well, you can only do that for so long until guys just kind of ... well, they know."

LaRoche, along with utilityman Eric Hinske and McLouth, were the players who spoke at that players-only meeting last month in New York, clearly establishing themselves -- and injured catcher Ryan Doumit -- as the team's leaders.

LaRoche hardly was alone.

"Wow," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said of his reaction to the trade. "I think the biggest thing was the shock factor. It's obviously a tough pill to swallow. Our No. 3 hitter just got taken away, the guy who leads our team in home runs and RBIs, and we were 6 1/2 games out. We could still have been right there. I think we still can. But we're all just kind of wondering right now ... wondering what it is."

Sanchez was asked when the future might finally arrive in Pittsburgh.

"I don't know. You're going to have to ask them."

Some were more reserved.

"You know it's a business, and I trust this front office to make the right moves," outfielder Nyjer Morgan said. "But sure, for now, it stinks."

Others declined to comment on the record but used strong language to express their feelings. Most of the ire was aimed at the loss of McLouth, particularly because the Pirates had just signed him to a three-year extension worth $15.75 million, but some also pointed to what they felt was a dubious return: The three prospects -- outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke -- were not among the top three in Atlanta's system.

"You make a deal for a player like that, and you'd better get at least one elite guy in return," one veteran said. "Who's the guy in this trade? Who is that player?"

Manager John Russell, in open acknowledgement of this environment, summoned players into his office -- in small groups or as individuals -- to exchange views on the trade. When outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were traded last summer, general manager Neal Huntington addressed the collective team, but Huntington is in Bradenton, Fla., preparing for the draft.

Russell was adamant, as Huntington and team president Frank Coonelly were the night of the trade, that the Pirates are focused on winning.

"We know moves like this are going to be made, and we stand behind them because we know they're going to make us better in the long term," Russell said.

He also made clear that, while he understood the players' dismay, his tolerance would be limited.

"The players lost a friend, a teammate and a good player," Russell said. "They might be thinking that we've thrown in the towel, but it's time to turn the page and play baseball. It's time to move on."

That was before the Pirates took the field for their 11-6 rout of the New York Mets.

"I thought the guys responded very well," Russell said afterward. "They still know we have some things to accomplish here. They went out and played very good baseball today."

According to Burnett, victory was vital under the circumstance: "I can't imagine what this place would have been like if we hadn't won."

Heightening the atmosphere early yesterday was that McLouth stopped by the clubhouse in the morning to collect his belongings before flying to join the Braves in time for their game last night in Atlanta. He embraced several teammates, then became emotional as he spoke to a group of media, a tear welling up in his left eye at one point.

"This blindsided me, obviously," McLouth said in a quieter moment later. "Last year, you saw those trades coming. We knew those were going to happen, and that wasn't the case with me. I don't know. As excited as I am for a new venture, I was drafted by the Pirates. This was my 10th year in the organization. There were a lot of people I got to know well. And the toughest part, really, is that I wanted to win here. This organization is such a big part of me."

And what about his opportunity with the perennially contending Braves?

"It's a new chapter, as I've said, but ... I wanted to win here."

McLouth was asked if he could understand how some in the Pirates' fan base question whether the team is serious about winning.

"I think so," he replied. "I don't think that's an illogical thing for people to be thinking based on some of the things that have happened. It's ... it's just a tough day."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on June 5, 2009 at 12:00 am