Among the reasons the Pirates were horrible in the mid-80s, poor trades made in an effort to build the 1979 team isn’t one of them.
Previous posts looked at the moves that brought Bert Blyleven, John Milner and Mike Easler to the Steel City. Both of those trades were good ones.
Up next is the deal that brought Tim Foli to the Pirates.
On April 19, 1979 the Pirates sent Frank Taveras to the Mets for Foli and career minor leaguer Greg Field.
Foli was the first pick overall in the 1968 amateur draft by the Mets. He advanced quickly to the Majors, appearing in 5 games in 1979 as a 19 year old. The Mets traded him (along with Ken Singleton and Mike Jorgensen) to Montreal for Rusty Staub in 1972. The Expos and Giants swapped shortstops in 1977 with Chris Speier going to Montreal for Foli. The Mets purchased Foli following 1977 and he spent all of 1978 with them.
Despite being the first overall pick in the draft, Foli never established himself as a star. He was well known as a hot head and earned the nickname “Crazy Horse”. Up through 1978, he had shown virtually no long ball power, never hit above .270 and had only one season where his OBP reached .300. He was regarded as a good fielder, though he never won a Gold Glove as Dave Concepcion and Larry Bowa had a stranglehold on that award in the NL in the 1970s.
Foli was the Mets primary shortstop in 1978. Foli’s play was so uninspring/mediocre that the Mets decided to move Doug Flynn to shortstop in 1979. Flynn had been the club’s second baseman. Occupying 2B for the Mets on Opening Day in 1979 was rookie Kelvin Chapman. However, nine games into the season, both middle infielders were hitting less than .200. The Mets opted to trade their back up, Foli, to Pittsburgh for the Pirates starting shortsop, Taveras.
After the trade, Flynn was moved to second, while Taveras manned short. Chapman went to the bench, was sent down in May, was recalled in September and then didn’t get back to the Majors until 1984. He spent 1980-1983 in AAA. According to this link Chapman is currently the girls softball coach at Mendocino College in Ukiah, CA. (If you ever want to test how long somebody has been a Mets fan, casually mention any of the four players the Mets got when they traded Tom Seaver to the Reds. Flynn was one of them. If the Mets fan flinches or looks like he wants to punch something, then he’s a die hard. If he has no idea who you are talking about, he’s a band wagon jumper. And he should be openly mocked.)
Dominican Republic native Taveras was signed by the Pirates in 1968 as an amateur free agent. He became the Bucs primary shortstop in 1974. He set what was then the club record (in the 20th century) for steals in a single season with 70 in 1977, earning him the nickname “The Pittsburgh Stealer.” However, Taveras was among the easiest stolen base threats to catch stealing. Taveras ranks in the bottom third of all players who swiped 300 or more bases after WWII. The following table lists the 20 worst stolen base percentages for all such players, active players excluded. (Caught stealing data was kept sporadically by NL up until the 1950s. The AL had been noting it since the 1920s.) My buddy Steve Sax makes the list. Heh heh. Considering how adept he was at swiping home, I’m surprised Carew was as bad as he was overall. At the opposite end of the list, Tim Raines ranks first. More fodder for those who think Raines should get into the Hall of Fame (I’m one of them).
Taveras was coming off his best season in 1978, amassing 40 extra base hits for the first time in his career. However, the Pirates were leery of his erratic glove. Taveras had made three errors just 11 games into the 1979 season when the trade occurred.
Greg Field, a pitcher, was a fourth round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1975. In 1978 the Twins shipped Field and Jesse Orosco to the Mets for future 200 game winner Jerry Koosman.
The following table has Win Share data for Foli and Taveras for their whole careers.
This was another strong trade. The Pirates got the best years of Taveras’ career and then got the two best years of Foli’s career in what was essentially an even up trade. Foli’s defense was considerably better than that of Taveras. In terms of career win shares, 72.4 of Foli’s 107 career win shares were defensive. For Taveras it was 38.5 defensive win shares with a career total of 85.
Foli’s 1979 season was by far his best season. He set career highs in batting average, on base percentage, hits, runs scored and RBI. He also collected 14 hits, scored 7 runs and drove in six runs in the post-season. In his most recent Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James rates Taveras as the 115 best shortstop ever and Foli ranks as the 125th best.
Foli was the Pirates regular SS in 1980 and 1981. He was traded to California before 1982 for Brian Harper and played for the Angels in all five 1982 ALCS games. The Angels traded him to the Yankees before 1984 and he became a part time player in the Bronx. Perhaps trying to recapture the spirit of ’79, perhaps being fearful of negative press from Dale Berra’s drug issues or perhaps just being stupid, the Pirates reacquired Foli prior to the 1985 season. The Bucs got a washed up Foli and a washed up Steve Kemp from the Bombers for Berra, pitching prospect Alfonso Pulido and Jay Buhner, who had spent just one year in the Pirate’s farm system. Foli’s career ended in June of 1985 when the Bucs released him. Sammy Khalifa manned short for the balance of the year.
Foli is one of a handful of post WWII players to collect 1,500 or more career hits and have an on base percentage of less than .300. The list has the player, career hits, career OBP and league adjusted OBP.
Not surprisingly this list contains a lot of guys who were known primarily for the glove work. Rodriguez, a third baseman, was over shadowed in the AL for years by Brooks Robinson. White and Maz were probably the two best defensive second baseman of all-time. Of the players listed, only Foli and Dunston never won a Gold Glove.
Greg Field was traded to Atlanta for Buddy Solomon in March of 1980. Field never made the Majors. Solomon went 17-15 for the Pirates in 1980, 1981 and part of 1982 before being traded to the White Sox for Jim Morrison.
Taveras had a typical year in 1980 – some steals, no power and a .279 BA. He slumped badly in the strike year of 1981, hitting just .230. In the offseason, he was traded to Montreal for Steve Razter who never appeared in the Show with the Mets. Taveras was used sparingly by the Expos, backing up Speier at short and backing Flynn, Mike Gates and Raines at second. Yep, Raines played some second. He was hitting just .161 in 87 ABs when the Expos released him in August. That was it for him.