The veteran outfielder agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, returning to the team he spent his most productive seasons with from 2005 to 2009 before being traded to the Atlanta Braves.
”It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said McLouth who will be guaranteed $1.75 million, with another $450,000 possible in performance bonuses. ”It’s a no-brainer.”
The Pirates also agreed to terms with left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard on a one-year, $4.5 million contract and signed free agent catcher Jose Morales to a minor league deal. Bedard has the chance to earn another $500,000 in performance bonuses.
McLouth led the National League with 46 doubles in 2008, making the All-Star team and becoming a fan favorite. He was shipped to Atlanta in June 2009 in exchange three minor leaguers, including pitcher and new teammate Charlie Morton.
Leaving the Pirates was difficult, and he struggled in Atlanta to regain the form he showed while becoming one of baseball’s top young outfielders. McLouth hit .198 in 2010 and .228 in 2011 with a career-low four homers in 81 games with the Braves.
”To struggle performance-wise as much as I did and to have the injuries that I did, it was tough,” McLouth said. ”I’m not going to lie. The past couple years were very, very difficult personally.”
The 30-year-old McLouth will likely be a utility outfielder. The Pirates are set in center field with All-Star Andrew McCutchen and have invested serious money in Jose Tabata, who switched between left and right field late in the season.
Alex Presley provided a spark after being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis and the team still has veteran Garrett Jones on the roster, though Jones spent time at first base toward the end of the season.
”We are pleased to sign Nate and bring him back to Pittsburgh,” general manager Neal Huntington said. ”He will add a positive veteran presence to our outfield and club.”
McLouth isn’t picky after two frustrating years in Atlanta.
”I’m comfortable playing all three positions,” McLouth said. ”Whatever way I find myself into the lineup is going to be good with me.”
The Pirates went 70-92 last summer, fading over the final two months after briefly rising to first place in late July. McLouth found himself involved in what’s considered the season’s turning point, a 19-inning loss to Atlanta in which the Braves took advantage of an umpiring gaffe to win.
McLouth was thrown out in the ninth inning of the game after getting picked off but remains stunned by the outcome.
”We talked about that game for the rest of the year,” he said. ”None of us have ever seen anything like that.”
Bedard watched the Pirates rise from afar while splitting 2011 between Seattle and Boston. He went 5-9 with a 3.62 ERA in 24 starts between the clubs after missing the 2010 season with a shoulder injury.
”They had a great year last year, they just need a couple more pieces to help them get over the hump,” Bedard said. ”I’m going to try and do that this year.”
Bedard helps fill the void left by the departure of veteran left-hander Paul Maholm. When healthy, he’s been among the most effective southpaws in baseball and is eager to get a crack at the NL after spending the first eight seasons of his career in the American League.
”I’m just there to help and give them some innings and have a solid year,” he said. ”I’m not there to take anybody’s spot. I’m just there to help.”
So is McLouth. He felt the Pirates were on the verge of becoming competitive before he was traded. He thinks they’re in an even better position now. He’s eager to finish the job.
”That was my goal, especially when I got to the big leagues, was to be a part of helping the franchise turn around and get back to a winning franchise,” he said. ”To not be able to see that through was one of the most difficult parts about being traded. Now that I’m back, I re-welcome it knowing that we’re even closer than when I left.”