PITTSBURGH — A day after falling out of first place, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a trade they feel will bolster their offense.
And it was welcome news to manager Clint Hurdle and his players.
The Pirates acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck from the New York Mets on Tuesday, hoping the veterans can help the franchise to its first playoff berth in 21 years.
The Pirates began the day a half-game behind St. Louis in the National League Central after the Cardinals took sole possession of first place Monday night with an 8-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates were idle.
The Pirates sent the Mets minor league infielder Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later in exchange for Byrd, Buck and cash considerations. Pittsburgh had claimed Byrd off waivers and were able to work out the four-player deal with New York.
“It’s pretty neat to see us make a move like this,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “We didn’t expect something to happen this late. You usually figure it is something that would happen at the (July 31 non-waiver) trade deadline.
“But these are established guys who can help us get to where we want to go.”
Byrd, 35, is hitting .285 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs this season, including .345 with seven homers against left-handers, and will give Pittsburgh needed depth in the outfield while leadoff hitter Starling Marte recovers from a sprained right hand.
Buck, 33, is batting .215 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Buck’s 63 home runs as a catcher rank third in the majors. He will back up Russell Martin.
Both players are expected to join the Pirates for Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Neither Byrd, a 12-year veteran, or Buck, in his 10th season, have played in the postseason.
“Marlon Byrd is an impactful bat with significant numbers against left-handed pitching and John Buck is a strong receiver who works well with a pitching staff,” Hurdle said. “Those were areas we were looking to improve upon and strengthen and the trade also adds a couple of layers of experience to our club.”
Mets manager Terry Collins was sad to see Byrd and Buck go, calling them “two very good professionals.”
“I can’t tell you how much value they brought to this team,” Collins said.
Pittsburgh is searching for offense to take some of the pressure off a pitching staff that has carried the team for long stretches during the first five months of the season. The Pirates lead the majors with a 3.21 ERA, though there have been signs of wear and tear this month. Pittsburgh is 11-12 in August and has seen a 4-game lead over St. Louis two weeks ago turn into a virtual tie.
Byrd has been red hot since the All-Star break, hitting .311 with 11 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 20 RBIs in his last 38 games. His presence should help an offense that is batting just .244 on the year, including an abysmal .223 with runners in scoring position, the second-lowest average in baseball.
Ironically, it was Marlon Byrd T-shirt night on Tuesday in New York as the Mets hosted the Philadelphia Phillies.
The 19-year-old Herrera is hitting .265 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs for Class A West Virginia. He played in the All-Star Futures Game last month at Citi Field. The Mets assigned Herrera to their Class A Savannah farm club and he will participate in the South Atlantic League playoffs.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he did not regret waiting until late August to trade Byrd rather than at the non-waiver deadline.
“At the end of July, it was a 29-team market. Now, it was a one-team market,” Alderson said. “We felt we got a better package now than in July.”
Regardless of when the deal was done, Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington was happy with it.
“The cost wasn’t cheap because we gave up a good prospect and the second player is also going to be a good piece,” Huntington said. “But our goal is to push this club forward and play deep into October, just not get there.”
Both teams made a series of roster moves in tandem with the trade.
The Mets selected the contract of outfielder Matt den Dekker from Triple-A Las Vegas and also recalled catcher Anthony Recker and left-hander Robert Carson from Las Vegas. Ace pitcher Matt Harvey on the 15-day disabled list with a tear in his right elbow.
The Pirates cleared spots on the 40-man roster by designating infielder/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment and recalling right-hander Kyle McPherson from Triple-A Indianapolis and placing him on the 60-day disabled list. McPherson underwent ligament reconstruction surgery on his right elbow July 10.