Nationals trade Hanrahan, Milledge

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— Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan, two players the Washington Nationals were counting on to be long-term cornerstones when this season began, suddenly are out of the organization altogether.

The Nationals completed a trade this afternoon that sent Milledge and Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for speedy outfielder Nyjer Morgan and left-handed reliever Sean Burnett. Morgan and Burnett are expected to join the club in time for tomorrow afternoon’s series finale against the Florida Marlins.

Washington acting general manager Mike Rizzo, in finalizing the first significant trade since taking over the club’s baseball operations department in March, said he was willing to give up on a pair of young players with high ceilings in exchange for known quantities who should fit right in on the Nationals’ roster.

Morgan, who turns 29 this week, will take over as the everyday center fielder and leadoff man. He hit .277 with a .351 on-base percentage and 18 stolen bases for the Pirates this season. Burnett, a former first-round draft pick whose career was derailed by Tommy John surgery, has resurrected himself as a reliever, posting a 3.06 ERA in 38 appearances. He’s considered effective against both left-handed and right-handed hitters and will slot into the middle-to-later end of Washington’s bullpen.

“You’ve got to give to get when you’re making major league trades,” Rizzo said. “You give up an upside corner outfielder in Lastings Milledge - who has great ability and has a chance to be a productive player in a major league lineup - and a big ‘stuff’ guy in Joel Hanrahan. We were dealing from what we thought was an inventory and a strength. Right-handed corner outfielders, we think we’re very deep in those skill-set players.

“And what we got, we addressed two of our biggest needs: athleticism and speed and defensive ability in center field … and a bullpen guy that we can have control of for the next three years.”

Milledge, acquired in Dec. 2007 from the Mets in a highly publicized trade for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church, was demoted to Class AAA Syracuse only one week into this season. He broke his ring finger trying to bunt on May 11 and only began playing again over the weekend.

Hanrahan began this season as the Nationals’ closer but was demoted twice from the role after struggling in pressure situations.

With Hanrahan now gone, the Nationals will play with 24 players tonight against the Marlins. Once Morgan and Burnett arrive tomorrow, the club will need to remove another player from its 25-man roster. Struggling veterans Austin Kearns and Ronnie Belliard are potential candidates to be released or designated for assignment.

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