Ken Rosenthal, just now:
Rumors that the Pirates were interested in Morneau have been floating around for a while, and today is absolutely the last day to add players from outside the team that can be eligible for the playoffs, so obviously if it was going to happen it was going to happen today.
This is a pretty solid move by the Pirates; we've seen plenty of Alex Presley here in Pittsburgh to know that he's a fourth outfielder at best. On the Pirates he's maybe the fifth best outfielder when everyone is healthy, without even counting Gregory Polanco (I never really understood why Pirate fans disliked him so much; his rise to the Majors in any capacity after seemingly stalling out in High-A is a great story -- I wish him only the best in Minnesota). Morneau will be a free agent as soon as this season ends, but the Pirates just aren't giving up much that they're going to miss in this deal. There is apparently also a second component to the trade, which is being reported as "a player to be named later or cash." I don't think there's much concern there; any time cash considerations might be an option, the player being discussed isn't terribly likely to be of consequence.
Morneau has been through quite a lot in the last couple of years to make it to the point where he was dumped off on a contender for Alex Presley at the last second before the playoff rosters need to be set. He was playing at an MVP level in 2009 before suffering a concussion, and he's quite honestly never gotten back to where he was before the injury. This year he's hitting .259/.315/.426 with 17 homers, which is basically a Garrett Jones statline. This is less of an upgrade, and more of a roll of the dice that Morneau can play at a higher level than Jones can down the stretch here. Nine of Morneau's homers have come in August, but he's coming off of an absolutely putrid July (.275/.266/.330), so it's possible that he's not offering the Pirates much at all here.
Still, I think that this is a gamble well worth taking. Last night aside, Jones hasn't really looked right at the plate all year. With rosters expanding tomorrow, the Pirates can keep Morneau, Jones, and Gaby Sanchez all dressed and on the roster and swap them in and out at first base as necessary. So long as Starling Marte is out, the Pirates can also use Jones in the outfield against righties occasionally to provide even more pop in the lineup. And like the Marlon Byrd trade, this has the hidden benefit of deepening the bench even further, as now it's possible the Pirates could have both Jones and Gaby Sanchez available to pinch hit, which is a lot different than having one or the other due to their extreme handedness splits.
In short: the Pirates might not be getting a huge upgrade here, but they're also not giving up much at all. They're tied for first place on August 31st, and in the last week they've added a few pieces that compliment the lineup that's built around Andrew McCutchen quite nicely. Basically, they're going for it without going for broke. It's a pretty great thing to see.
I agree with the analysis here--Presley's inability against lefties and inability to get on base place a pretty hard ceiliing on his utility and usefulness, and if the PTBNL is no better than Vic Black, the system can absorb that. At worst, Morneau (or the move of Jones to the bench) gives the Pirates more options when Hurdle is doing his frenetic double-switching.
I actually liked Presley, too. I would've preferred he be the lefty in the platoon with Tabata in RF rather than Travis Snider, who is absolutely useless. That said, I'm good with this trade because I don't see Presley as anything that's irreplaceable. Polanco will be here sometime next season and in the meantime the Bucs can sign somebody over the winter and I wouldn't even give up on Tabata, who I still think has the most upside of the "fourth OFers" if he could only stay motivated and healthy.
Sure Morneau is having a down year but we've seen many many times how changing leagues creates a brief revival in a talented veteran. Plus, I'd rather see GI Jones in RF and Morneau at 1B against RHP than Jones and Snider.
I think it was clear after Presley's play this year and recent demotion (not to mention his mini-spat with GMNH over his designation) that his window for playing time at the big club was essentially closing. One of those players (it appeared to me, at least) that was a little to good to play in the minors, but didn't have the talent to play in the bigs for any meaningful time frame. Plus, it seemed like people assumed Presley was young because of his size/appearance/career development, but he was too old to take any of his AAA success seriously. With the outfield getting crowded he was more than expendable. It's entirely possible that barring injury he wouldn't have sniffed the outfield next season with the big club. Once you know that the twins would accept Presley for Morneau, it's a deal that has to be made.