Why the Nationals traded for Scott Hairston

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PHILADELPHIA — Scott Hairston’s flight out of Chicago was delayed on Monday afternoon, so the Washington Nationals’ newest acquisition was not around prior to their game against the Philadelphia Phillies. But the team was hopeful he’d arrive shortly before game time.

Waiting a few more hours was fine with them.

Hairston’s addition was the product of a few weeks of discussions between the Nationals and the Cubs, culminating with their agreement late Sunday night in exchange for minor league right-hander Ivan Pineyro. Both sides will also be sending either a player to be named or cash to the other. 

“I think this was the move we were waiting to make,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday. “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.”

Hairston was their main target in that regard, Rizzo said, focusing in on him for the aforementioned reasons as well as the fact that his contract, which he signed as a free agent this offseason, keeps him under team control at $2.5 million for next season as well. That, along with their depth in pitching at the lower levels of the minor leagues, allowed the Nationals to feel “comfortable,” Rizzo said, in giving up a 21-year-old pitcher.

“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 also allowed the Nationals to option Tyler Moore to Triple-A Syracuse so he could get everyday playing time down there.

The Nationals had hoped that Moore could duplicate the success he had off the bench in 2012, but with at-bats scarce — Moore had started just one game this month — they felt they were doing him a disservice by keeping him on the bench. And his production, hitting .151 and slugging .283 in 106 at-bats — simply wasn’t there.

“(Hairston) is more the kind of player we need,” said manager Davey Johnson, who has often discussed his uncomfortability with having young players on the bench. 

“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… (Moore) just needs to play. In my mind, he’s an everyday player. And this can set him back more than it can help him.”

Hairston, who the Nationals did talk to this offseason when he was a free agent, is a career .268 hitter against left-handed pitching and he’s slugged .500 against them over the course of his past 10 years in the major leagues.

In limited at-bats this season, Hairston’s overall numbers are not as strong. But in 78 at-bats against lefties he has eight home runs. 

That kind of power off the bench from the right side is something the Nationals have lacked this season.

When it came down to it, the Nationals also impressed upon the Cubs their preference that the deal get done before the team opened a four-game series with the Phillies this week. Facing three straight left-handed starters, Johnson said he would likely start Hairston in at least one, and possibly two, of those games.

Hairston’s career numbers against the Phillies — he has hit .307 with a .348 on-base percentage and .677 slugging percentage in 45 games — also played into it. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start on Tuesday, with Cole Hamels pitching. In his career, Hairston is 12-for-30 against Hamels with five doubles and five home runs.

“If we were going to do the deal we wanted to do the deal at this particular time because (of his numbers against left-handers and the Phillies, in particular),” Rizzo said. “This series did have something to do with it.” 

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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