Pirates get pitcher, outfielder in trade; Jones walks plank
The Pirates have sought buy-low opportunities in the free agent and trade markets under general manager Neal Huntington, and hope they found more value in a three-player trade completed with the Padres on Monday.
The Pirates acquired a former top 100 prospect in Jaff Decker, 23, a versatile outfielder with on-base skills, and groundball relief pitcher Miles Mikolas, 25, for Alex Dickerson, 23, the Eastern League's top rookie last season.
To make room for Decker and Mikolas on the 40-man roster, the Pirates designated first baseman Garrett Jones and pitcher Kyle McPherson for assignment, leaving questions around the Pirates' first base situation.
The decision to part ways with Jones is tied to declining production — Jones hit just .233 with 15 home runs last season while platooning with Gaby Sanchez — and increasing costs. Jones made $4.5 million last season and again is eligible for arbitration. The Pirates have 10 days to trade or release Jones. He is expected to be non-tendered by Monday's deadline if he hasn't been moved. Jones hit 27 home runs in 2012 with the Pirates.
“In Garrett's case the arbitration process was likely to drive the dollars above where we were comfortable,” Huntington said. “If we don't trade him, and the non-tender is the outcome, we hope to keep the door open.”
Both Decker and Mikolas were designated for assignment by the Padres.
Huntington said Decker, the 42nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, is not a candidate to play first base, but pointed out the left-handed hitter can play all three outfield positions. While Huntington declined to comment on a potential role for Decker next season, the Pirates likely are seeking platoon options in right field.
“With Decker we like the overall package,” Huntington said. “We feel like he'll come to camp with a legitimate chance to make the club, if not, he'll provide us with some quality depth.”
Decker was Baseball America's No. 82 overall prospect in 2010 before back-to-back, injury-riddled seasons downgraded his prospect status. But Pirates scouts continued to follow him during a bounce-back campaign in 2013 when he posted a .381 on-base mark and a .286 average with Triple-A Tucson.
The scouts like Decker's tools. He's a solid baserunner, has gap power — 35 extra base hits in 105 Triple-A games in 2013 — and enough arm for right field. The Pirates' analytics department like Decker's ability to control the strike zone. He has a career .402 on-base mark over six minor league seasons.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Decker profiles as a younger Travis Snider and could jeopardize Snider's roster spot. Snider is arbitration eligible.
Mikolas recorded 26 saves at Triple-A Tucson last season and fits the organization's preference for groundball pitchers.
“He's a guy that throws a low to mid-90s fastball with movement,” Huntington said. “He has a legit opportunity to make our club.”
By trading Dickerson, who hit 17 home runs and drove in 68 runs in his first taste of Double-A, Huntington said the Pirates were trading a prospect who appeared to be on the rise for one who had run into setbacks. But Dickerson wasn't ranked as one of the Pirates' top 10 prospects for 2014 by Baseball America, and Decker may help the big league club next season.