This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 19th, The LaRoche/Gonzalez Trade

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and one major trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 2007 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez and minor league infielder Brett Lillibridge to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for first baseman Adam LaRoche and minor league outfielder Jamie Romak. Gonzalez pitched out of the Pirates bullpen for four seasons prior to the deal. He took over the closer role in 2006, where he saved 24 games, with a 2.17 ERA in 54 innings. During the 2004 season the lefty had a 1.25 ERA in 47 games. Lillibridge was a fourth round draft pick of the Pirates in 2005, who split the 2006 season between low-A and high-A, hitting a combined .305 with 87 walks and 53 stolen bases. LaRoche was 27 years old at the time of the trade and he had just come off of a season in which he hit .285 with 32 homers and 90 RBIs. Romak was 21 years old with four minor league seasons already. He hit .247 with 16 homers in 2006 in low-A ball.

For the Braves, Gonzalez pitched only 18 games before he was diagnosed with a muscle tear that required Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return until June 18, 2008 and had a 4.28 ERA with 14 saves in 33.2 innings. He pitched well in 2009 before leaving via free agency. Lillibridge was rushed to the majors in 2008, hitting .200 in 29 games. In that off-season he was traded to the White Sox in a six-player deal for Javier Vazquez. In 2011 he hit .258 with 13 homers in 97 games for the White Sox, then had very poor results for five different big league clubs during the 2012-13 seasons. Romak played three seasons in the Pirates system, topping out at Double-A before he was released. He signed with the Kansas City Royals and spent two seasons at Double-A, before making brief big league stops with the 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers and 2015 Arizona Diamondbacks. LaRoche played with the Pirates until the 2009 trading deadline. He hit .272 with 88 RBIs in 2007, then followed it up with a .270, 25 homer, 85 RBI season. In 2009 he was hitting .247 with 12 homers through 87 games when the Pirates traded him to the Red Sox for minor leaguers Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland. He played with four teams after leaving the Pirates, retiring after the 2015 season.

The Players

Nick Burdi, pitcher for the 2018-20 Pirates. Burdi was a hard-throwing relief pitcher in college at Louisville, who was drafted twice by the Minnesota Twins. In 2011, they took him in the 24th round out of high school. Three years later, he was a second round pick. Burdi was injured often in their minor league system before the Pirates acquired him in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies, then immediately sold to the Pirates. At the time, he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and wouldn’t be ready to start pitching until mid-season. Burdi pitched rehab games in the minors, then joined the Pirates in September. Despite being with the club for the entire month, he pitched just 1.1 innings over two appearances. Burdi was on the 2019 Opening Day roster due to Rule 5 restrictions, and he pitched in 11 games before going down with a season-ending injury in late April. He recovered for the 2020 season, but just three games in, he was injured again and this time required two surgeries, including a second Tommy John surgery, which in turn ended his 2021 season before it started. The Pirates released him in November and he signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres, who will take over his long rehab process. In 12.1 innings over 16 appearances in Pittsburgh, Burdi had a 9.49 ERA and 23 strikeouts. Due to his Rule 5 draft status, he received three full years of service time with the Pirates, yet due to the injuries, he never fulfilled his Rule 5 requirements (90 days in the majors, including 60 non-September days).

Chris Stynes, third baseman for the 2004 Pirates. He had already played nine seasons in the majors with five different teams when he signed with the Pirates on January 4, 2004 as a free agent. In 2003 with the Colorado Rockies he set career highs in games (138), doubles (31) and RBIs (73), but hit just .255 and had a huge home/road split, batting .291 with ten homers at Coors Field and .218 with one homer on the road. For the Pirates he hit .216 with one homer and 16 RBIs in 74 games before he was released on August 4, 2004. In 71 games at third base that season he made just one error. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles for the 2005 season, but his year, and subsequently his career, ended in Spring Training when he broke his leg with a foul ball. He was a third round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school in Florida in 1991. Four years later, all spent in the minors, he was traded to the Kansas City Royals as part of a large package to acquire David Cone. Stynes debuted in the majors in 1995 and saw sporadic playing time over the 1995-96 seasons (58 games total), before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the 1997 season. He had an outstanding half-season with the Reds immediately after the trade, batting .348 in 49 games.  Stynes mostly played left field in his first full season with the Reds, hitting .254 with six homers and 15 stolen bases in 123 games. He was a seldom-used bench player in 1999, hitting .239, while playing infield and outfield. He bounced back with a nice 2000 season, hitting .334 in 119 games. That season was the first in which the majority of his time on defense was spent at third base. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox after the season and spent one year there, then signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs in 2002, before signing a deal with the Rockies for 2003. In his career, he batted .275 in 828 big league games, with 51 homers, 265 RBIs and 351 runs scored. He had over 100 career starts at three different spots, third base (322), left field (109) and second base (108). He also saw starts in right field, and played some shortstop and center field as well.

Scott Little, outfielder for the 1989 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick out of college by the New York Mets in 1984, who came to the Pirates along with minor league shortstop Al Pedrique in exchange for infielder Bill Almon on May 29, 1987. Little started the 1987 season in Double-A for the Mets, but he was sent to high-A prior to the trade, then stayed there with the Pirates. In 1988 he played at Double-A Harrisburg and hit .290 with 52 RBIs and 27 steals in 118 games. He also briefly made it to Triple-A, where he went 1-for-16 in four games. While in Triple-A in 1989, Little was called up on July 26th when Gary Redus was placed on the disabled list. Little made his MLB debut on July 27th as a pinch-hitter. A week later he got his second at-bat in a pinch-hit role and grounded out to third base. Then on August 6th, he came into the game in the 14th inning, going into RF during a double switch. In the 17th inning, he picked up his first Major League hit, a line drive single to left field on the first pitch. Four pitches later on a fly ball to right field by Junior Ortiz, Little was doubled off first base for an inning ending double play. The Pirates won in the 18th inning when Jeff King led off with a walk-off homer. Little was back in the minors right after that game, getting sent down on August 8th when Gary Redus was activated from the disabled list. Little played with the Pirates at Triple-A Buffalo through the 1991 season, never making the majors again. He has managed 15 seasons in the minors since retiring as a player, six of them in the Pirates system. He also put in seven years as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.