PHILADELPHIA - Reporters have still not laid eyes on Scott Hairston since the veteran outfielder was acquired by the Nationals for minor league righty Ivan Pineyro in a trade with the Cubs last night. Hairston’s flight out of Chicago was delayed by a couple hours earlier today, and he had yet to arrive in the Nats’ clubhouse when the open-media period had ended around 5:30 p.m.
That said, the Nats expect to have Hairston in uniform and available tonight, and assuming he is, they feel he gives them a valuable bench bat, a guy that can produce against left-handed pitching and an established hitter who is comfortable in a pinch-hitting role.
The struggling Tyler Moore, batting .151/.195/.283 this season, was optioned back to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Hairston.
“One of the places we thought we could improve was to tweak our bench,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “It did a lot of things for us. It brought us a veteran right-handed bat with some power, successful against left-handed pitching, allowed us to move Tyler Moore back to the minor leagues to get everyday at-bats. We still think he’s got the potential and the ceiling to be an everyday first baseman and needs to play and get some at-bats and I felt bad that he didn’t play for eight games. Davey (Johnson) felt bad that he didn’t play for eight games. We needed to get him out and playing everyday and get us some extra sock on the bench.
“I think that was the move we were waiting to make. We felt good about our left-handed side of the bench and just wanted a little more pop from the right side and a guy who could handle some left-handed pitching.”
The Nats had viewed Hairston as their top target when it came to right-handed bench players, and they’d been in talks with the Cubs about a deal for a couple weeks now, Rizzo said. They made it clear to the Cubs that if the deal was going to get done, they’d like it to get done prior to this four-game series against the Phillies, a team that Hairston has killed over his career.
Johnson has made it clear over the last couple years that he prefers having proven hitters on his bench as compared to younger players, and that’s a big part of the reason why he was in favor of acquiring Hairston.
“I like him a lot,” Johnson said. “I know he’s hit some balls awfully hard against us, and out of the ballpark. He’s more the kind of player we need. We have a pretty much set lineup. We need a veteran presence on the bench, not some youngster. He knows the pitchers and he knows what he needs to do to hit. So it’s a great move.
“He was with the Mets last year and he knows these guys. I know he’s got a bunch of numbers against the Phillies, and that’s great. He’s hit a couple of them pretty good. But again, it goes back to having a veteran player on the bench, a la (Mark) DeRosa, those kind of guys, they can sit around and they can still come in and perform.”
Hairston has eight home runs in 99 at-bats this season, but he has a slash line of just .172/.232/.434, well below his career averages of .244/.299/.448.
“Well it’s a small sample this year,” Rizzo said. “Over his career he’s been a very successful major league hitter. Hits good left-handed pitching extremely well and was an everyday player not so long ago. We like where he’s at, what he brings to the dynamic of the bench and I think he gives Davey another tool to work with and to try and outmanage the guy across the way.”
Hairston is in the first year of a two-year, $5 million deal, and while the Cubs might’ve been trying to rid themselves of some of that salary, the Nats like the fact that Hairston is under contract through the 2014 season.
“Definitely. We just didn’t want to give up a minor league player for a three-month rental,” Rizzo said. “I think it sets us up for the future. It really supplements some good right-handed options we have in the minor leagues and a guy we can look to next year as a guy who can not only come off the bench and be successful that way but a guy who can mentor our younger players and teach them how to play their game the right way.
As for Pineyro, Rizzo said that while he’s a strike-thrower and a guy who has posted solid numbers this season, the Nats felt comfortable letting him go in order to acquire Hairston because the of the amount of starting pitching depth in the lower ranks of their system.
The Nats and Cubs will also each give up a player to be named later in the deal, although the Nats could receive cash instead of a player, if they so choose.
With Ross Detwiler now on the DL with a lower back strain and Dan Haren having struggled and just come off the DL himself, the Nats have been linked to a number of starting pitchers in trade talks. But while things can certainly change, Rizzo doesn’t sound like the type of guy who is still looking to make a big deal to bolster his roster.
“You never stop trying to improve your club, but with that said, we feel like we like the club that we have and we’re certainly playing better and we’ll see where it takes us from here,” Rizzo said. “I don’t see any type of big splashy moves that are remaining.”