The Pirates acquired first baseman Ike Davis for minor-league reliever Zack Thornton and a player to be named, ending months of speculation about Davis heading to the Pirates.
This isn't an outcome I would have been thrilled about at the start of the offseason, but given that the Pirates headed into the season with Travis Ishikawa as their main first baseman against right-handed pitching, this trade (or something like it) was necessary. Ishikawa is already 30 and has no big-league track record to speak of. He's a nice enough depth piece, but a contending team shouldn't have him as their main first baseman, and it shouldn't have Gaby Sanchez hitting righties, either.
The Davis move has a good chance of failing, but I like his chances against righties better than those of Ishikawa or Sanchez. ZiPS has Davis hitting .231/.332/.422 the rest of the season, with 1.6 WAR. It has Ishikawa posting -0.1 WAR (in less playing time, but obviously, when you're talking about a player posting negative WAR, that doesn't matter). Sanchez, meanwhile, has shown pretty decisively that he can hit lefties, but he shouldn't be starting against righties.
Davis has a career .256/.357/.471 line against righties. He has significant issues with hitting for average, but this is a real big-league hitter with good plate patience and, if we're lucky, decent power.
My first response to what the Pirates gave up was, "That's it?" The Mets had reportedly asked the Brewers for the now-dominant Tyler Thornburg and the Orioles for a good pitching prospect in Eduardo Rodriguez, so it's surprising they waited this long and settled for this little. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that the PBTNL could change the balance quite a bit. Often, PTBNLs are insignificant, but that wasn't the case when the Pirates acquired Marlon Byrd from the Mets last August (when the PTBNL was Vic Black), and we probably shouldn't expect that to be the case now. The player could well be someone from last year's draft -- not Austin Meadows or Reese McGuire, obviously, but someone interesting.
As it stands, the Mets are getting a pitcher in Thornton who no one bothered taking in last year's Rule 5 Draft. Clearly, Thornton's numbers jump off the page. He also isn't a junkballer -- he can hit 93 MPH, and he gets plenty of ground balls. Other teams' disinterest in him has surprised me. But if no one even liked him enough to take a Rule 5 flyer, despite his age (he's nearly 26) and his dominance in the high minors, that probably tells us something. The Pirates also sent Thornton to Bradenton to begin the 2013 season even though he had already had plenty of experience at that level and was nearly 25 at the time, another possible indication that they didn't view him as a prospect. Thornton's low arm angle might make him vulnerable against lefty hitters in the big leagues, and if he really struggles against them, he may not amount to much, because there's no such thing as a ROOGY.
It's impossible to evaluate a trade without knowing all the players in it, obviously. But given that the Pirates really had to do better than Ishikawa, I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. And if the PTBNL doesn't turn out to be anyone good, then Neal Huntington will deserve some praise for waiting out the market. Giving up a top prospect for Davis would have been a bad idea, and the Pirates might have had to do that to get him a few months ago. The Pirates waited until there wasn't much of a market for Davis, and it looks like they might have gotten him fairly cheaply.