Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History: The Toronto Blue Jays Edition

This is part 12 in the Team Trade History for the Pittsburgh Pirates series. There will be at least 30 articles, since I’ve already split up the Dodgers into Brooklyn and Los Angeles due to size. I’ll probably have parts 1/2 for other National League teams that have been around since the 19th century as well, so the final total will be over 30 articles. We are going with an easy one today, taking a look at a team that has only been around since 1977. This is the Toronto Blue Jays trade edition.

As a quick reminder, we only look at trades that involve players on each sides and at least player who had big league experience. No minor league trades that went nowhere, no waiver pickups or player purchases.

The first trade between these two clubs was a swap of marginal outfielders, with Wayne Nordhagen going to Toronto for Dick Davis. This trade also involves some explaining. Nordhagen was on the Blue Jays a week earlier and he was traded to the Phillies for Davis. That same day, the Phillies turned around and sent Nordhagen to the Pirates for Bill Robinson. The problem was that Nordhagen had a bad back, so the Pirates worked out a deal to get Davis and send Nordhagen back. In essence for the Pirates, this deal is really Bill Robinson for Dick Davis. It didn’t matter much, as all three of them barely played with their new teams and all were out of the majors for good by the end of the 1983 season.

The next qualified trade between these two teams happened 14 years later and not much really happened in between. They had one player purchase and one trade of minor league players during that stretch. The 1996 trade was outfielder Jacob Brumfield going to Toronto for minor league first baseman DJ Boston. The Pirates got nothing from Boston, though he had quite a pro career, spending 15 years in the minors/Mexico/indy ball without a single big league game. Brumfield put up a .764 OPS and 0.5 WAR over 90 games in 1996 in Toronto, then had a rough go in 1997. He was in the minors in 1998 and out of the majors by the end of 1999. Toronto clearly got the better value in the deal, but it was 0.4 WAR over nearly two full seasons. That’s better than what the Pirates got out of Brumfield (-0.2 WAR) in two seasons.

Six months after the prior deal, the Pirates and Blue Jays hooked up for their biggest deal. Pittsburgh got six minor league players (three as players to be named later) for Orlando Merced, Carlos Garcia and Dan Plesac. This deal was all about cutting payroll for the Pirates, while restocking their farm system. Three of the players they acquired, Brandon Cromer, Jose Pett and Mike Halperin, never made the majors. So the return value came from Craig Wilson, Abraham Nunez and Jose Silva. Nunez was the big name in the deal for the Pirates, but he never worked out. In 630 games over eight seasons in Pittsburgh, he accumulated 1.1 WAR, while splitting his time between shortstop and second base. Silva spent five seasons in Pittsburgh and he finished with -0.5 WAR over his 420 innings pitched. It was a good thing that they got Wilson, because the other five combined for 0.6 WAR. Wilson had an .846 OPS over 634 games with the Pirates. His defense was poor wherever he played, so it kept him down to a total of 4.5 WAR.

The Blue Jays were getting three veterans in the deal, stocking their team up for a hopeful playoff run. Plesac put up solid results over 100.1 innings and 151 appearances during the 1997-98 seasons. In 1999, he had a very rough time and got traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal for Tony Batista, who hit 41 homers in 2000. So this turned out to be a win for the Blue Jays, without even considering the rest of the deal. Plesac had 0.9 WAR during each of the 1997-98 seasons. Merced had 2.5 WAR in his only season in Toronto before reaching free agency. That gain was offset by Garcia, who was awful in his only season in Toronto, hitting .220 with below average defense, which led to -2.0 WAR. Still, with Plesac doing well, then getting flipped for an All-Star power hitter, things worked out much better for the Blue Jays here. Without the Batista trade, the nine-player swap was pretty even. Blue Jays took on three veteran salaries over 4 1/2 seasons and got 1.5 WAR. Pirates got 5.0 WAR over 19 seasons.

In July of 2003, the two teams hooked up on a minor deal that saw John Wasdin head to Toronto for outfielder Rich Thompson. Wasdin played for the Pirates, but not during this turn with the team. He was in the minors at the time of the deal. Thompson played briefly in the majors in 2004 and 2012, but not with the Pirates. The Pirates lost him as a Rule 5 pick in December of 2003, but he was returned after playing six games for the Kansas City Royals. He left the Pirates via minor league free agency after the 2006 season. Wasdin did awful in his brief time in Toronto, then got released in September. He played for the Pirates in 2007.

The next deal was one that went very bad for the Pirates. Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz. This deal almost didn’t go bad, but the Pirates have Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to blame. After Bautista did nothing in his first full year with the Blue Jays and there was talk that he was going to be released due to his high cost, Murphy changed Bautista’s swing and he took off (that’s if you believe that everything was on the level without HGH testing). Either way, those changes COULD have possibly happened in Pittsburgh and they would have got a good year out of him before he priced himself out of the market. His trade value would have been high though, much higher than a decent hitting/no power catcher like Diaz. The other part was that the Pirates gave Diaz no real chance despite deserving a better look. He would have never approached Bautista numbers, but that doesn’t mean he had no value. The official tally (knowing full well that Bautista would have never been paid the $100 M he got in Toronto) was 38.2 WAR for Bautista in ten seasons and 0.7 WAR for Diaz.

In 2010, the Pirates traded minor league pitcher Ronald Uviedo for pitcher Dana Eveland. The Pirates gave up a marginal prospect who never made it, for a marginal MLB player, who lasted 9.2 innings with the Pirates. No one won this deal.

In July of 2012, the Pirates sent Brad Lincoln to the Blue Jays for outfielder Travis Snider. This was a nice little win for the Pirates. Snider had his moments in Pittsburgh, then got dealt for Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley. Not only did the Pirates eventually get Lincoln back, they eventually got Snider back after trading him. Lincoln had a -0.4 WAR in parts of two seasons in Toronto (60.1 innings).

The final deal was the most confusing deal ever, at least if you were following it live. Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez for Drew Hutchison. You couldn’t have got any of those players even up for Hutchison under normal circumstances, but Liriano had a guaranteed salary of about $17 M left for one year and two months. He was not worth that much at all, so it took two prospects to get rid of him. The problem was that if you were following the deal, the first real details said Liriano for a prospect. Then we heard two prospects. Then we heard Reese McGuire was in the deal. So all we knew at that point was that Pirates were trading two players for two prospects. Hutchison’s name then came up and because he wasn’t a prospect, it seemed like the Pirates were getting three players back. Then we heard Harold Ramirez, then silence…then we found out that it was a 3-for-1 deal and I don’t think anyone actually believed it for a while. I know I didn’t and I was following every single update as they came in.

Liriano had 0.2 WAR after the deal during the remaining part of his contract. Ramirez and McGuire have both made the majors with little to show for their time. Ramirez has 0.3 WAR in two seasons after he left Toronto as a free agent. McGuire has 0.8 WAR in parts of three seasons. Hutchison did nothing of note for the Pirates. This deal could have went much worse and no one was happy when it happened, but it hasn’t been bad yet because of Liriano’s salary and the lack of return from all three players. Two are still fairly young though, so it’s an incomplete right now, with only a chance to get worse.

Out of the nine deals, the only real loss for the Pirates was the Bautista deal. All of the others were too minor to consider losses, more like an edge to the Blue Jays. The Pirates won one deal, the Snider for Lincoln, but that was mostly due to the trade they made afterwards involving Snider. The final deal is still incomplete.