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Ike will like his fresh start with the Pirates

After disappointing tenure with Mets, slugger will have chance to shine in Pittsburgh

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has had so many of these smart, under-the-radar moves pay off that it's easy to believe in this latest one. His new first baseman, Ike Davis, is a mere 27 years old, a former first-round Draft pick and a player with a very, very high ceiling. We'll get back to him in a bit.

Huntington has a good track record with these kinds of moves. He believed in A.J. Burnett at a time when a lot of people didn't. Huntington, at least, thought Burnett was worth a gamble. Burnett resurrected his career in Pittsburgh, and along the way, helped resurrect a franchise, too.

Huntington has gotten tremendous return from plenty of others, too -- Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jeff Karstens, etc. As good as the Pirates have been in producing homegrown talent, they would not have gone to the playoffs last season for the first time since 1992 without their general manager shoring up his roster from here, there and everywhere.

Now Huntington has gotten Davis from the Mets for Minor League pitcher Zack Thornton and a player to be named later. As intriguing trades go, this is as about as good as it gets.

The Pirates haven't gotten nearly enough from their first basemen, who are hitting a combined .203. Huntington had hoped that Gaby Sanchez would grab an opportunity and run with it, but that hasn't happened.

Justin Morneau was acquired for the stretch run a year ago, but he signed with the Rockies in the offseason. Huntington shopped for other offensive help this winter, but he was unable to find something within his budget.

With Lucas Duda solidifying his hold on first base for the Mets, general manager Sandy Alderson believed the time was right to move the other guy. Rather than have the ongoing Davis-vs.-Duda debate continue, Alderson decided to give Duda a chance to establish himself once and for all.

Now about Davis. He's two seasons removed from hitting 32 home runs, and he's had stretches when he looked like he was capable of being an impact offensive player. But something always got in the way.

Davis had a couple of seasons of nagging injuries, and at other times, simply didn't take advantage of his chance. He was going so badly for a time last season that the Mets sent him back to the Minor Leagues for a month.

He then had a two-month stretch in which he hit .267 and had a .429 on-base average before an oblique injury ended his season on August 31. Davis had more nagging injuries during a Spring Training that was supposed to be a competition between the two first basemen.

Anyway, Duda had outplayed Davis during this first month of the season, and now both players will have a chance to establish themselves as big league players.

With the change of scenery for Davis comes the kind of opportunity he may cherish for the remainder of his playing career.

That's how a lot of players who have an opportunity to play for Clint Hurdle feel. Davis will love the environment around the Pirates, from the front office to the coaches to the players. They are a low-key, professional group who are role models for preparation and professionalism.

Davis is arriving in Pittsburgh at a time when fans believed in their baseball team again. Before he plays his first game with Pittsburgh, he should watch video of the scene before that Reds-Pirates National League Wild Card Game last October.

No ballpark has ever been louder or had more of an electric atmosphere than PNC Park that day. In a few seconds, Davis can understand what a winning baseball team means to that city.

And in Hurdle, he'll be playing for a man who commands every room he enters, a man who believes in the power of positive thinking and uses an analytic approach to every decision. On Davis' first day as a Pirate, he'll be reminded that his new team believes in him and intends to give him a long, fair shot to play.

Davis may share the position with Sanchez for awhile, but he'll be given the chance to show once and for all how good he can be. The Pirates need him, too. They're again in a dogfight in the NL Central. The Cardinals are good again. The Brewers are baseball's most surprising team. The Reds can be a factor if they get healthy.

One of the beauties of a baseball season is these story lines buried beneath other story lines. Davis was already one of those because of the position competition with the Mets. He'll be that again as the Pirates try to make the postseason for a second straight year. He's also going to love the experience -- everything from the clubhouse to the manager to the city. Most of all, he'll get a chance to maximize his talent. That's the best part of this whole deal.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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