Much of the 1996 rebuilding effort was made up of major trades that saw veteran Pirates leaving the city of Pittsburgh. Before we get into the more publicized deals, let’s look at some of the minor transactions that had some effect on the rebuilding process.
January 18, 1996 – Signed Francisco Cordova as an amateur free agent.
The Pirates signed Cordova, a 24-year-old playing in Mexico City, to a minor league contract before the 1996 season. He made the bullpen out of spring training and had a solid season as the team’s closer. By the end of the year, he was in the starting rotation. He was probably the team’s best starter for the next two seasons, showing flashes of dominance. Cordova appeared poised to anchor the team’s rotation for years to come, something that was crucial for the rebuild to succeed. But it was not meant to be. Cordova regressed a bit in 1999, missing time early in the season with a shoulder injury. He spent a few weeks on the disabled list in July of 2000 with elbow soreness. He left his August 8th start after two innings and never pitched in the majors again. Cordova underwent surgery that month to remove bone spurs from his elbow. His recovery was slow, lasting well into the 2001 season. In September, he was cut down by Tommy John surgery. He returned to Mexico, where he is still pitching today.
July 23, 1996 – Traded Danny Darwin to the Houston Astros. Received Rich Loiselle.
On July 23, 1996, the Pirates were sitting six games under .500 and in last place in the National League Central. With the 40-year-old Darwin having a surprisingly strong season, the Pirates flipped him before the trade deadline. Loiselle made a few starts down the stretch and was thrust into the closer role when John Ericks went down with an injury in the spring of 1997. He became a part of the storybook Freak Show season, saving 29 games while posting solid peripheral numbers. But he fell victim to bullpen variability. Loiselle’s performance slowly faded and he lost the closer job to Mike Williams in 1999. He battled injuries for a few more years and left the team a free agent after the 2001 season.
March 30, 1997 – Purchased Ricardo Rincon from Mexico City Reds (Mexican.
Rincon spent two seasons with the Pirates as a valuable left-handed reliever, and he teamed with Cordova to produce one of the best Pirate games of the past two decades. But his true effect on the franchise was made on the day he left. The trade that sent Rincon to Cleveland and brought Brian Giles to Pittsburgh gave the Bucs their best player during this unparalleled losing streak, and the team is still receiving benefits to this day.