Back When Things Went Right – Part Three
This was originally going to be just a two-part piece about the building of the 1970s Pirates, but in the course of writing Part Two I got interested in the trades they made during the decade. Consequently, I decided to summarize all the trades they made during the 1970s that involved players who had major league careers of any significance after the trades. This is a long list and I didn’t try to quantify things, like calculating net Wins Above Replacement (WAR) or anything. I just tried to give a capsule look at the results. I think some patterns emerge, though.
For one, there weren’t many blockbuster deals that turned out extremely well or extremely badly. The only massive fleecing was the Doc Medich fiasco, although the Bob Johnson trade didn’t go well, either. (I may be understating it a bit, based on my view that Freddie Patek wasn’t all that good.) There were certainly some low-profile deals that turned into steals on the positive (getting Dave Giusti for nothing) or negative (giving away Rick Honeycutt for nothing) side of the ledger. But in most of their trades, GMs Joe L. Brown (through 1976) and Harding Peterson traded value for value. Looking at the team’s trades over such a long period makes it very clear that a GM can’t be expected to bootstrap his team to success by trading nothing for something.
Another obvious pattern is that the Pirates, as a perennial contender, often traded prospects for veterans, but seldom if ever the other way around. The trades gradually seemed to get a little less productive for them over the course of the decade, as their farm system couldn’t sustain its phenomenal pace of the late 1960s and early 1970s, although it was still good. And these trades typically worked out well for the Pirates, the Medich and Johnson deals notwithstanding. In fact, as a whole their trades generally accomplished more or less what they were intended to accomplish. The Pirates seldom gave away low-profile players who later hit it big, just Honeycutt and, to a lesser degree, Art Howe. They acquired a few players at little or no cost who made big contributions with them: Giusti, Ramon Hernandez, Bill Robinson and Mike Easler.
In both of their championship seasons, the Pirates had strong bullpen triumvirates: Giusti, Hernandez and Bob Miller in 1971, and Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson and Enrique Romo in 1979. Except for Tekulve, all were acquired in trades. They gave up nothing of value for the 1971 trio. Romo cost them some minor pieces and Jackson cost them a middling shortstop. Of course, Tekulve himself was a find, as an overage prospect who made good far beyond anybody’s expectations. It’s interesting to see, because the Pirates did it in much the same way that the more astute GMs build bullpens now.
Anyway, the list below is long and you may just want to skim it for the highlights. I’ve put the most significant trades in italics.
UT Carl Taylor and a minor leaguer to the Cardinals for P Dave Giusti and C Dave Ricketts. (I’m cheating a little and including a deal that was made in October 1969.) This deal seemed minor when made but paid off big for the Pirates. Taylor was a 25th-man type player who had a fluke season in 1969, hitting .348. He didn’t do much after the trade. Ricketts was a journeyman backup who played only a few games for the Pirates and didn’t return to the majors after that. Giusti had been a subpar starter for about four years, but became the Pirates’ relief ace for the first half of the 1970s. With them, he compiled a record of 47-28, with 133 saves and a 2.94 ERA.
P Denny Riddleberger to the Senators for P George Brunet. The Pirates made this trade at the end of August to get help for the stretch drive. Riddleberger was a promising lefty reliever who had two good seasons after the trade, but his career ended after that due to injury. Brunet was a veteran starter, but the Pirates got him to bolster the bullpen. He pitched mostly well for them and moved on the next season.
OF Angel Mangual to the Athletics for P Mudcat Grant. This was another stretch drive traded, completed in mid-September. Grant pitched very well the last two weeks, then pitched decently in 1971 until the Pirates sold him back to the A’s in August. He retired after the season. Mangual was a prospect who never hit in the majors.
Three random minor leaguers to the Yankees for C Charlie Sands and two random minor leaguers. Sands spent all of 1971 in the majors as a seldom-used (but pretty decent) pinch hitter. He had a brief career after that.
SS Freddie Patek, P Bruce Dal Canton and C Jerry May to the Royals for P Bob Johnson, SS Jackie Hernandez and C Jim Campanis. The Pirates made this trade in an attempt to get the frontline pitcher they lacked. Johnson was a hard thrower who’d fanned 206 batters in 1970. He pitched well at times for the Pirates over three years, including a great outing to beat Juan Marichal in the 1971 playoffs, but he never lived up to his billing. This may have been due in part to a drinking problem. He went 17-16, 3.34 for the Pirates. His career didn’t last long after he moved on. Campanis was a marginal backup who was out of the majors quickly. Hernandez was an average defensive shortstop who couldn’t hit at all. He shared the position with Gene Alley in the 1971 season, but saw decreased playing time after that and was out of the majors after three years with the Bucs. Patek was the Royals’ starting shortstop for nine years, stealing 385 bases and playing in three All-Star games. His career OPS+ of 79 indicates he was probably overrated due to the notoriety that his 5’5” height attracted, but short was a problem position for the Pirates for years. May was a good defensive backup catcher whose career lasted a few more years. Dal Canton was a mostly subpar swingman for the Royals for four years. His best years came with Atlanta at the end of his career.
OF Matty Alou and P George Brunet to Cardinals for P Nelson Briles and OF Vic Davalillo. Alou had batted .330 or better for the Pirates for three years before dropping to .297 in 1969, when they stopped platooning him. His slap-hitting approach relied heavily on his speed, which was declining. He had two good years for St. Louis and hung on for several years after that. Brunet only pitched a few more games. Briles went 36-28, 2.98 for the Pirates and threw a two-hit shutout in the 1971 World Series. Davalillo hit .290 as a good fourth outfielder for the Bucs for two and a half years.
Random minor leaguer to Mexico City Reds for P Ramon Hernandez. Another minor trade that turned into a gold mine. Hernandez became the lefty counterpart to Giusti, going 23-12 with 39 saves and a 2.51 ERA over six seasons with the Pirates.
P Ed Acosta and OF John Jeter to Padres for P Bob Miller. The Pirates built their early-70s bullpen out of nothing. Miller was a journeyman pitcher who had a late career surge as a reliever. The Pirates acquired him in mid-August and he produced a 2.19 ERA in the season and a quarter he spent with them. Acosta and Jeter were not-quite-prospects in their mid-20s who did little after the trade.
P Gene Garber to Royals for P Jim Rooker. Garber was a pitching prospect who ultimately became a top reliever, although not with the Royals. He had 218 career saves. Rooker was a 30-year-old, struggling starter who turned things around with the Pirates. He went 82-65, 3.29 with them over eight years and starred in the 1979 World Series.
2B Dave Cash to Phillies for P Ken Brett. The Pirates went into the post-Mazeroski era with what seemed like an embarrassment of riches at secondbase, with Cash, Willie Randolph and Rennie Stennett. They ultimately decided Stennett was the best player, which seemed to be correct based on the .336 average he was carrying when he broke his leg in 1977. Cash became an All-Star for the Phillies and Expos, although his career ended at age 32. Brett went 22-14, 3.32 in two years with the Pirates before getting included, with Randolph, in the horrendous Doc Medich trade.
Traded C Milt May to Astros for P Jerry Reuss. May had been a hot prospect who never quite lived up to his promise. Still, he lasted another eleven years, mostly as a semi-regular, and finished his career back with the Pirates. Reuss was an average, but very durable, starter who went 61-46, 3.62 for the Pirates over six years.
P Nelson Briles and IF Fernando Gonzalez to Royals for IF Kurt Bevacqua, C/OF Ed Kirkpatrick and a minor leaguer. Briles didn’t pitch as well after the trade as he had with the Pirates, but he was a decent swing man for another five years. Gonzalez drifted around for several more years, including another stint with the Bucs, but never did much. The Pirates shipped Bevacqua back to the Royals for basically nothing and he had a long, but not especially productive, career as a utility infielder. Kirkpatrick posted a 91 OPS+ over four years with the Pirates as a bench player.
P Bob Johnson to Indians for random minor leaguer. This ended Johnson’s disappointing tenure in Pittsburgh. He struggled for part of a year with Cleveland, ended up back in the minors, and resurfaced briefly and unsuccessfully with Atlanta three years later.
P Tom Dettore to Cubs for IF Paul Popovich. This was a nothingburger transaction. Popovich played very sparingly for the Pirates for two years and then was out of the majors. Dettore was a highly regarded prospect at one point, but he pitched poorly for the Cubs over parts of three years and then also was gone from MLB.
OF Gene Clines to Mets for C Duffy Dyer. Clines fell off badly after 1972, but he lasted another six years in the majors. He had one pretty good year after the trade. Dyer continued his good-field, no-hit backup catcher career for four years with the Bucs and briefly for a couple years beyond that.
P Wayne Simpson to Phillies for OF Bill Robinson. Simpson had had a big rookie season for the Reds in 1970 and had never been healthy after that. The Pirates had acquired him in a minor deal a year earlier but he was never able to pitch for them. He pitched only briefly for the Phillies in 1975 and then struggled through most of a season for the Angels in 1977. Robinson was a failed top prospect whose bat finally came alive for the Pirates in his early 30s. He played a key role on the 1979 champions and posted a 114 OPS+ over 7+ seasons in Pittsburgh.
2B Willie Randolph, P Ken Brett and P Dock Ellis to Yankees for P Doc Medich. Oops. You can make a good argument that this was the worst trade in franchise history, but if you look at it as things stood when it was made, it didn’t look like a fiasco. Medich had won 49 games with the Yankees in his first three major league seasons, although his ERA was just about average the last two. He threw a huge number of innings—235, 279 and 272—which would probably raise red flag now. He wasn’t bad for the Pirates; he just wasn’t good, either. He went 8-11, 3.52, which translated to an ERA+ of 99. The Pirates then sent him on to Oakland in the huge Phil Garner trade. He struggled there for a year, but then had five average-ish years in Texas. Randolph, of course, was one of baseball’s better secondbasemen for what seemed like a century with the Yankees, retiring with 2210 hits and six All-Star selections. Ellis went 17-8, 3.19 with New York, then had a good season for Texas the following year. His career petered out after that. The Yankees soon flipped Brett to the White Sox, for whom he went 10-12, 3.32. He pitched for another five years after that, mostly not well.
IF Art Howe to Astros for IF Tommy Helms. Helms was about done and did little for the Pirates. They sold his contract to the A’s after the 1976 season. Howe spent six years as the Astros’ regular thirdbaseman and compiled an OPS+ of 109.
C Manny Sanguillen to Athletics for Manager Chuck Tanner. Not the most orthodox trade ever. Sangy was coming off a solid year but was about washed up. He had one bad year in Oakland, then returned for three years as a bit player in Pittsburgh. Tanner won a title, but his tenure was tarnished by disturbing events that he deserves some blame for.
SS Craig Reynolds and IF Jimmy Sexton to Mariners for P Grant Jackson. Reynolds had a long career as a light-hitting shortstop. Sexton had a brief career as a utility player. The veteran Jackson spent just under five seasons in Pittsburgh as the excellent left-handed counterpart to Kent Tekulve.
OF Richie Zisk and P Silvio Martinez to White Sox for Ps Goose Gossage and Terry Forster. This was a trade of players (aside from Martinez) who were in their option years. Teams back then were still struggling with the concept of free agency and this was how these two teams dealt with the pending loss of their players. Zisk had quietly let the Pirates know he would not re-sign, which helped preserve his trade value. He hit a career-high 30 HRs for the Sox, then signed a ten-year deal with Texas. He hit well, but not as well as hoped, for five years, the last two in Seattle, and then was forced out of the game by back problems. Martinez was a young prospect who had a big year with St. Louis in 1979, but was forced out of the game within a couple years by arm problems. Gossage gave the Pirates one of the greatest seasons ever by a reliever, then continued his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes. Forster pitched poorly for the Pirates, then had a number of excellent seasons, with some poor years mixed in, for the Braves and Dodgers.
OFs Tony Armas and Mitchell Page, and Ps Dave Giusti, Doug Bair, Doc Medich, and Rick Langford to Athletics for IFs Phil Garner and Tommy Helms, and a random minor leaguer. The cost was high, but this deal paid big dividends for the Pirates, as they would not have reached the post-season in 1979 without Garner. Not only did he have arguably his best season, but he was able to move from third to second to make room for Bill Madlock once the Pirates concluded Rennie Stennett couldn’t play any more. Garner hit poorly for the Pirates after 1979, though, and was traded to the Astros in mid-1981. He had mostly good seasons for them for about five years. Helms hardly played for the Pirates in his second brief stint with them. Armas became a power-hitting centerfielder, with 251 career HRs and an ugly .287 OBP. Page had a huge rookie season and a very good sophomore year, but his career quickly flamed out after that. Giusti pitched well the next year for Oakland, was moved to the Cubs late in the season, then retired. Bair was a 27-year-old prospect, but still had a long career as a solid reliever. Medich pitched badly for Oakland for a year but had a string of solid seasons later. Langford was a solid to very good starter for Oakland for four years until Billy Martin fragged his arm.
P Rick Honeycutt to Mariners for P Dave Pagan. Pagan was a journeyman whose career lasted one more game. Honeycutt was a prospect who had a very good career, including an ERA title, as a starter, then another very good career as a reliever. Depending on your point of view, he helped Tony LaRussa either revolutionize or ruin baseball as the first well known lefty specialist.
1B/OF Al Oliver and IF Nelson Norman to Rangers as part of four-team trade for P Bert Blyleven and 1B/OF John Milner. This trade would have been a clear winner for the Pirates had it not been for Blyleven’s unwillingness to adjust to Chuck Tanner’s quick hook. Norman had a brief career, including a very brief return to Pittsburgh, as a non-hitting utility infielder. Oliver continued to hit very well—in fact, mostly better than he had for the Pirates—for another seven years, including a huge year for Montreal in 1982. Milner was a very good bench and semi-regular bat for three years in Pittsburgh and played a key role in 1979. Blyleven pitched well initially, but steadily declined to mediocrity in his three years in Pittsburgh, although he was a post-season hero in 1979. The Pirates effectively gave him away after the 1980 season and he went on to the second half of a Hall of Fame career.
OF Miguel Dilone, IF Mike Edwards and P Elias Sosa to Athletics for C Manny Sanguillen. (There was obviously some pipeline with the A’s, but I don’t know the nature of it.) Dilone was a speedy, young slap hitter who was blocked by Omar Moreno. He played bits and pieces of another eight years and had one fluke season in which he hit .341 and stole 61 bases. Otherwise, he didn’t hit much and was mainly used as a pinch-runner and OF substitute. Edwards played semi-regularly for the A’s in a couple seasons but didn’t hit at all. The Pirates had acquired Sosa on waivers just a couple months earlier, but included him in this deal at the end of spring training, so he never pitched for them. He was coming off two excellent seasons pitching in relief and went on to have a couple more very good seasons. Sanguillen was mainly a backup for a year, then a pinch hitter for two more.
P Odell Jones, IF Mario Mendoza and a random minor leaguer to Mariners for P Enrique Romo and two random minor leaguers. Romo formed part of an extremely hard-working bullpen trio for the Pirates with Kent Tekulve and Grant Jackson. He was outstanding in 1979 and good in 1980 before finishing with two weak seasons. Jones pitched poorly as a starter for Seattle but had two good years in relief for Texas. Mendoza was a solid defensive player who later became famous for his bat, although not in a good way.
Two random minor leaguers to Red Sox for OF Mike Easler. The Hit Man had made a career out of getting blocked by fancier outfielders. Even the Pirates didn’t realize what they had for a long time. He got only 72 ABs for them in 1977 and 1979, and spent all of 1978 in the minors. He then hit very well for them in platoon roles for four years and had a couple more excellent seasons with the Red Sox and Yankees.
P Jerry Reuss to Dodgers for P Rick Rhoden. Reuss was a classic average-ish innings-eater, which had suited the high-offense Pirates very well. He had the best stretch of his career after the trade, though, going 86-69, 3.11 with the Dodgers over 8+ years. Rhoden missed nearly the entire 1979 season and spent two more years getting fully healthy, but eventually went 79-73, 3.51 with the Pirates.
SS Frank Taveras to Mets for SS Tim Foli and a random minor leaguer. An early-season trade that involved two “problem case” shortstops, the very speedy but erratic Taveras and the volatile, injury-prone and erratic Foli. Their careers continued in the same vein after the trade except for one thing: Foli had by far his best year immediately following the trade, staying healthy and helping key the Pirates to a championship. Taveras’ career petered out over three poor seasons in New York. Foli had an adequate season in 1980 and played poorly for five years after that.
Ps Fred Breining, Al Holland and Ed Whitson for 3B Bill Madlock, IF Lenny Randle and P Dave Roberts. The Pirates’ second key in-season trade contributed even more to the franchise’s last title than the Foli trade. Madlock replaced the struggling Rennie Stennett, with Phil Garner moving to second, and hit .328 the rest of the way. He later won two batting titles while in Pittsburgh. The Pirates immediately sold Randle’s contract to the Yankees. He had one more solid season and then his career petered out. Roberts was a veteran, average starter nearing the end, but was moderately useful in a swing role with the Pirates that year. Whitson was a good prospect who’d never gotten established in the Pirates’ rotation, but he finished 126-123, 3.79 over a 15-year career. Holland had a very good stretch of about seven years as a reliever, including 54 saves in two years with the Phillies. Breining pitched well as a swing man for three years, going 27-20, 3.34, but he ruined his shoulder on a fielding play and never pitched in the majors again.