We have posted four Pirates Trade History articles here and will eventually get to all 30 teams. Some of the teams will have a long and detailed history of trades, such as all of the early National League teams. Our articles for the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers showed that trades between National League and American League teams didn’t happen too often in the early parts of the 20th century. There were still plenty of deals between the clubs because they’ve been around so long.
A more recent trade article was on the Arizona Diamondbacks, which we posted last month. They’ve only been around since 1998, so the article was smaller in comparison. Our next article visited the middle ground, looking at an expansion team from 1977. The Seattle Mariners had a 21-year head start on the Diamondbacks, but they were well behind the Tigers and Indians. Today we go back just a little more to take a look at an older expansion team. The Los Angeles Angels played their first season in 1961. They soon changed their name to California, then Anaheim, and now they are back at Los Angeles.
Just like with the first four articles, I’m only including trades that had players from each side, with at least one player who was either in the majors, or eventually made it to the big leagues. That means no waiver transactions or straight up player purchases or minor league trades that went nowhere. The Pirates and Angels have made 20 transactions over the years, but only eight qualify for this article.
We start with the first trade between the two clubs. During their first four seasons in existence, the Angels only made minor player purchase deals with the Pirates. The first actual trade of players happened on February 1, 1965 when the Pirates sent infielder Julio Gotay to California for outfielder Bob Perry.
Gotay spent one season as a backup with the Angels, then was dealt to the Houston Astros for a minor league player. He would see some decent playing time in Houston to finish out his career. Perry was 30 years old at the time and he played parts of two seasons with the Angels. After the deal, Perry was in Triple-A for the Pirates until the middle of the 1966 season. He played pro ball until 1970, but his last year in the majors was 1964. You could call this a very minor trade win for the Angels, but neither really helped their new team.
It took another 12 years for another trade between the two clubs and that one could be considered a big win for the Pirates, though it comes with an asterisk just as big. The Pirates acquired Mike Easler for minor league pitcher Randy Sealy, who never made the majors. Easler had a very nice career with the Pirates, including an outstanding 1980 season, but that asterisk takes a bit away from this deal. Easler was sold to the Boston Red Sox after the 1978 season, only to be reacquired a few months later in a trade. If you look at it that way, all the Pirates got from Mike Easler 1.0 was ten games in 1977 and he spent all of 1978 in the minors.
The next trade was on April 1, 1981 and no fooling, this was a win for the Pirates. They acquired first baseman Jason Thompson for catcher Ed Ott and pitcher Mickey Mahler. The Angels got almost nothing from their two new players, while Thompson put together a nice run of five seasons with some power and a lot of walks. He was an All-Star in 1982 when he hit 31 homers, with 101 walks and 101 RBIs.
Eight months after the Thompson deal, the Angels and Pirates hooked up for another trade. The Pirates sent shortstop Tim Foli to the Angels for outfielder Brian Harper. Foli was a key member of the 1979 championship team, but by the end of 1981 he was seeing a drop in his offense and defense. Harper spent three unproductive years with the Pirates, compiling 0.3 WAR in Pittsburgh. His career took off years after he left as a catcher for the Minnesota Twins. Foli had a solid 1982 season, then took away all of the value in 1983, before moving on to the New York Yankees, then back to Pittsburgh. He had a 1.1 WAR in 1982 and a -1.1 WAR in 1983.
Four years later, the two teams completed their biggest trade, with the Pirates sending veteran help to the Angels in exchange for young players. The deal was John Candelaria, George Hendrick and Al Holland for Mike Brown, Pat Clements and Bob Kipper. The Pirates were giving up veterans on expiring/bad contracts, who were part of a 104-loss team that year, so they didn’t miss any of them. Hendrick was signed through 1988 with a big (at the time) contract and wasn’t playing well, so at best he had zero trade value. The question is, did they get enough?
Kipper pitched seven years in Pittsburgh and he was around for the 1990-91 playoff teams, so that was a nice return. Brown played well in 1985, then did poorly in 1986, before being released. At the time of the trade, he was considered the big piece for the Pirates. Clements had a very nice 1986 season in the bullpen, but his real value came later that year when he was part of the package that got the Pirates Doug Drabek. I’d say the Pirates won this deal, especially if you look at the deal that the Angels got stuck with for Hendrick, who provided no value (-0.5 WAR in four years).
In April of 1986, the clubs made a minor trade that did nothing for either team. Pitcher Chris Green was sent to California for minor league infielder Kevin Davis. Neither player saw the big league roster with their new team. Davis had a 13-year career in the minors without a big league game. Green never pitched in the majors again.
On August 29, 1987, the Pirates sent popular second baseman Johnny Ray to the Angels for minor league infielder Bill Merrified and pitcher Miguel Garcia, who made his big league debut earlier that year. Ray was seeing a decline in his offense and defense at the time, plus he had a high salary, which led to the deal. The Pirates also had Jose Lind to step right in to take his place. The problem was that the return got them almost nothing. Ray had a 4.9 WAR in 3+ seasons with the Angels, while Garcia pitched 13 games and 18.2 innings over three seasons, and Merrifield was let go after the 1987 season, never making the majors.
These two clubs went 16 years without a single transaction, and even that one that ended the drought was a player purchase (Angels purchase pitcher Courtney Duncan) that didn’t pan out. The gap between trades was even bigger. It took 27 seasons before the two clubs swapped players again. In mid-2014, reliever Jason Grilli was sent to the Angels for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Both pitchers were struggling at the time. Grilli pitched better in Los Angeles (in 2014), while Frieri pitched worse in Pittsburgh and was gone after 14 games. This was a win for the Angels, though the Pirates still made the playoffs that season.
Eight deals and the worst one for the Pirates was the Johnny Ray deal, which didn’t really hurt them because Jose Lind took his place and had the higher WAR over the rest of Ray’s career (6.4 vs 4.9). The problem wasn’t losing Ray, it was the poor return. The Jason Thompson deal was the biggest win here, though you could say the big 1985 trade worked out even better for the Pirates.