The Houston Astros have been around since the 1962 season, joining the National League along with the New York Mets. The Astros were called the Colt .45s for their first three years and they completed two trades with the Pittsburgh Pirates during that time. The two clubs have combined for 17 transactions over the years involving Major League players.
In our Team Trade History feature, we look at all of the trades that involve players from both sides and at least one big league player. That mean no minor league trades that went nowhere, no waiver transactions or strictly cash deals. That leaves us with 11 deals to look at below, starting with the first one back in 1963.
Right before the 1963 season started, the Pirates sent outfielder Howie Goss and cash to Houston for Manny Mota. The 28-year-old Goss spent one full season with the Pirates and one with Houston. He struggled with a .592 OPS, but he played decent defense in center field. It turned out to be a one-sided deal, with Mota hitting .297 in 642 games over six seasons. He was lost in the 1968 Expansion Draft, but only after the Pirates got plenty of value from the deal.
In June of 1964 there was an odd deal worth mentioning. The Pirates traded pitcher Tom Parsons to Houston for pitcher Dave Gerard. In September, both players returned to their original teams. The Pirates sold Parsons to the New York Mets right after getting him back.
After the 1973 postseason ended, the Pirates sent catcher Milt May to the Astros for Jerry Reuss. This was another win for the Pirates. They had a good catcher in Manny Sanguillen and Reuss had 61 wins in six seasons before being traded even up for Rick Rhoden. May had two decent seasons with Houston, then was part of a seven-player deal with the Detoit Tigers. He would return to the Pirates in 1983 to finish his career.
The Astros got their chance at a big win two years after the May-Reuss deal. The Pirates picked up veteran Tommy Helms for a player to be named later, which turned out to be Art Howe. The Pirates wanted help on defense, but Helms barely played during his two seasons, and he was below average defensively. He had a -0.1 WAR with the Pirates, while the Astros got seven seasons from Howe, where he posted a 13.7 WAR. The worst part was that he was better than Helms on defense, besides the large difference on offense.
In 1978, the Pirates traded outfielder Dave Augustine for outfielder Jim Fuller. Both had some MLB experience before the deal, but neither ended up playing in the majors after the deal. The chance for upside was small to begin with, as Fuller hit .160 in 34 games during the 1977 season.
In 1981, the Pirates made out big on a deal that the Astros swung to help their playoff run. Houston acquired infielder Phil Garner for second baseman Johnny Ray and pitchers Randy Neimann and Kevin Houston. The pitchers provided very little, but the Ray for Garner part of the deal worked out well. Ray spent seven season with the Pirates, hitting .286 in 931 games, while leading the league twice in doubles. His defense was also strong. He posted 19.4 WAR in Pittsburgh. Garner remained in Houston for seven years total, but that included two free agent deals. The Pirates were just trading away a month of playing time and he struggled over that final month with a .609 OPS.
Eight years later, the two teams exchanged outfielders, with Glenn Wilson going to Houston for Billy Hatcher. Wilson struggled in Houston through the end of 1990, while Hatcher didn’t do any better in 1989 for the Pirates, then they dealt him to Cincinnati prior to the 1990 season. That trade didn’t work out, so neither team received any value from this deal.
At the trade deadline in 1996, the Pirates sent Danny Darwin to the Astros for Rich Loiselle. Darwin was a veteran brought in to help a playoff run, but his ERA was nearly double in Houston. Loiselle played six seasons total in Pittsburgh, doing really well in two of those years. He was a strong bullpen piece during their Freak Show 1997 playoff run. This was a minor win for the Pirates, partially due to the short amount of time Darwin had remaining with the team, but also because he posted a -0.9 WAR after the deal.
At the trade deadline in 2001, the Pirates acquired pitcher Tony McKnight for closer Mike Williams. The Astros didn’t use Williams as a closer, but he was in the bullpen and he had a 4.03 ERA in 22.1 innings. He gave up a run in his only playoff inning. After the season, he re-signed with the Pirates. McKnight was put right in the rotation and made 12 starts over the last two months. Despite being 24 at the time, he never played in the majors again, so this trade was a wash.
In July of 2012, the Pirates gave up the farm to acquire Wandy Rodriguez for the playoff run. Prospects Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman and Colton Cain were all sent to Houston. Rodriguez was basically an average pitcher with the Pirates, but he missed a lot of time during his three seasons (one full year/two partial) in Pittsburgh. The deal had a chance to go sour, but Owens couldn’t stay healthy either and played just one big league game. Cain never developed into a big league player, while Grossman has been a solid role player over six big league seasons. He was supposed to be a five-tool player, but his value has mostly come from getting on base and speed/defense/power never fully developed. Houston saw very little of that before they released him in 2015.
The final trade was the recent Gerrit Cole deal. It’s obviously gone the way of Houston so far, but they no longer have Cole and the Pirates still have all four players they acquired in Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin. It’s possible that it doesn’t end up as bad as it looks now.
Overall the Pirates have the advantage here due to the Mota, Reuss and Ray deals. It’s not a huge gap though because of the Howe and Cole deals. The Rodriguez-Loiselle deals cancel each other out, and everything else was too close to call.