This is part eight in our Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History feature. You can find the previous seven articles in the Team Trade History section on Pittsburgh Baseball History. As a quick refresher, we take a look at all of the trades between the Pirates and another team, which involve players from both sides and at least one Major League player. That means no waiver pickups or player purchases or trades that involved only career minor league players. Today’s article looks at the current Minnesota Twins franchise, which ran as the Washington Senators from 1901 until 1960.
I’ve mentioned in past articles that there weren’t many trades between leagues in the early years of the American League. We saw that in our most recent article with the Baltimore Orioles, where there wasn’t a single qualified trade between the Pirates and the St Louis Browns. The first real trade happened after the team moved to Baltimore.
This is another example where I could have left the first part of the franchise out of the title like I did with the Browns. During the 60 years of the franchise being called the Washington Senators, every deal between the two clubs was a player purchase. There were seven total player purchases, with the most famous being Bullet Joe Bush in 1926, when he was nearing the end of his productive 17-year career.
The trade drought didn’t end immediately with the move to Minnesota either. The Twins purchased Paul Giel from the Pirates early in 1961, then nothing until the first trade between the two clubs in December of 1967. The Pirates sent minor league outfielder Bob Oliver to the Twins for pitcher Ron Kline in that first deal. Oliver played eight years in the majors and had a few solid seasons with the Kansas City Royals and California Angels, but he never played for the Twins. Kline was a one-time Pirates pitcher in the 1950s, returning late in his career. He had a strong 1968 season, going 12-5, 1.68 in 112.2 innings. He struggled quite a bit in 1969 and was dealt to San Francisco for Joe Gibbon.
That 1967 trade didn’t exactly get the ball rolling. In 1974, the Twins purchased Jerry May from the Pirates. They then went 16 years without a single transaction. On April 4, 1990, the Twins traded minor league pitcher Mike Pomeranz to the Pirates for minor league pitcher Orlando Lind and catcher Junior Ortiz. Neither pitcher made the majors, while Ortiz was a part-time player for the Twins for two seasons. The Pirates had Mike Lavalliere and Don Slaught behind the plate, so while they suffered a minor loss in this deal, they had the position covered for years to come.
In 1991, the Pirates traded minor league outfielder Greg Sims to Minnesota for slugging first baseman Joey Meyer. This deal went nowhere, as Sims lasted just four games after the deal before his career was over. Meyer spent the year in Triple-A before retiring. He was a top prospect at one point, but never panned out in two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He hit 135 homers and drove in 487 runs in 580 minor league games.
In 1992, the Pirates received Midre Cummings and Denny Neagle in exchange for John Smiley. The Pirates were giving up one year of control with Smiley, who won 20 games in 1991. He did well for the Twins in his only season in Minnesota, then moved on as a free agent. The Pirates got the best of this deal in that Neagle became productive and then they were able to deal him for Jason Schmidt. However, they had to go through three years of mediocrity before Neagle found his groove. Cummings played parts of five seasons for the Pirates and could never stick full-time. He did a little better in a few seasons after leaving Pittsburgh, but his success amounted to a career 0.9 WAR.
From 1992 until 2012, these teams didn’t have a single transaction. That was only stopped by a player purchase (Shairon Martis to the Twins). On August 31, 2013, the Pirates picked up Justin Morneau for Alex Presley and Duke Welker. Morneau helped the Pirates into the playoffs, then left via free agency. Presley was basically a replacement level player for his eight-year career. He had one decent season in Pittsburgh, but he had a -0.8 WAR during his other seven seasons combined. Welker never played in the majors after the trade (more on that shortly). While Morneau was a decent pickup for the Bucs, he was supposed to provide a nice bat in the middle of the lineup. Somehow in 117 plate appearances (including playoffs), he drove in just three runs.
In November of 2013, the Pirates reacquired Duke Welker in exchange for pitcher Kris Johnson. As mentioned, Welker never made the majors after 2013 and his total time in the majors was very brief. The Pirates didn’t lose much on this deal. They made the playoffs in 2014 and Johnson started three games for the Twins, then never played in the majors again.
That brings us to the final two deals and neither qualifies for this article. The Pirates purchased Vance Worley in 2014 and Pat Light in 2017. That’s it.
These two franchises have been in the majors together for 120 seasons now. In that time they have made six player-for-player trades. The John Smiley for Neagle/Cummings deal was by far the biggest deal here, though the Morneau deal had some importance behind it. The Kline/Oliver deal had some quality behind it and worked well short-term for the Pirates. Two of the six trades went nowhere, while the Junior Ortiz deal worked for the Twins, but he was a third-string catcher with the Pirates, who also had Tom Prince available at the time.