I created this A Snapshot in Time feature to look at the Pittsburgh Pirates during certain moments in time throughout the years. I’ve been doing off-season/Spring Training rosters to this point, but I recently came across their additions to the 40-man roster after the 1994 season and I was a bit surprised at how many names were on the list. The Pirates added eight players on November 22, 1994, protecting them ahead of the Rule 5 draft, which took place on December 5th. Below you will find a recap of where those players were in their careers at the time of their addition to the roster, as well as how they did afterwards, focusing on their contributions with the Pirates.
Jason Christiansen – Christiansen would have been up with the Pirates at the end of 1994, if the season was allowed to end. He was succeeding in Triple-A at the time and finished up strong. The strike that year ended the big league season in August and he would have received a September trial. Instead, he made the 1995 Opening Day roster and he pitched the next 5 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh until being shipped to the St Louis Cardinals for Jack Wilson. So not only did he give the Pirates 278 relief appearances, he also brought back a great trade piece right before he reached free agency. As far as this particular list goes, he’s at the top in overall value added to the Pirates.
Micah Franklin – The Pirates acquired Franklin weeks before the shutdown in exchange for first baseman Brian Hunter. He was 22 years old at the time and he had decent results during the second half of 1994 in his first season at Double-A, posting an .819 OPS. Franklin did well at Triple-A in 1995, with a .293 average and 21 homers, but the Pirates put him on waivers at the end of the season and predictably, he was picked up by another team. Seemed like a bad move at the time, but it turned out fine. His big league career consisted of 17 games in 1997.
Gary Wilson – Wilson was a successful Double-A starter in 1994 at 24 years old, posting a 2.56 ERA in 22 games. He jumped right to the majors on Opening Day in 1995 and lasted ten games over two early season stints, all in relief, putting up a 5.02 ERA in 14.1 innings. That ended up being his entire big league career, though he remained in the Pirates system until 1998.
Dennis Konuszewski – This was a bit of a curious addition. The 23-year-old was a Double-A reliever with decent results in 1994. He actually earned the roster spot by finishing strong in the Arizona Fall League. He didn’t exactly dominate though, with a 3.59 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and a low strikeout rate in 1994. He ended up making one big league appearance and it did not go well, with three hits, a walk and two runs, while recording one out on a sacrifice bunt. His very brief Triple-A time was just as bad, with 11 runs in 3.1 innings. He stayed with the Pirates until retiring mid-season in 1997.
Ramon Morel – The Pirates really took a chance here, protecting someone who had no experience over Low-A ball. At 19 years old, he put up strong stats in Low-A in 1994, with a 2.83 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 152 strikeouts in 168.1 innings. They shot him through the minors in 1995 and he debuted with the Pirates on July 6th. In 2 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh, he had a 4.98 ERA in 56 innings over 39 games. He was put on waivers in September of 1997 and lost to the Chicago Cubs, who gave him his final three big league appearances that season.
John Ericks – He was a first round pick of the St Louis Cardinals in 1988, who was once a top 100 prospect in baseball, but he had zero big league experience before joining the Pirates in 1994 at 26 years old. He turned 27 shortly before getting added to the 40-man roster. In 1994, he finished the year as a starter in Double-A, where he had a 2.67 ERA in 11 outings. Ericks went into the Pirates rotation in 1995 after just five Triple-A starts. He spent parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh, seeing less time each year. He had a 4.78 ERA in 162 big league innings. He got injured during the season in 1997 and he was released after the season, then never played again, though he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1998.
Mark Johnson – Johnson was 26 years old in 1994 and spent his third straight season at Double-A, where he hit .276 with 23 homers and 67 walks, mostly playing first base. He became the Pirates starting first baseman in 1995 and held the job until 1997. The Pirates lost him on waivers to the Cincinnati Reds in late August of 1997. He batted .239 with 30 homers and 104 RBIs in 284 games with the Pirates. He showed some power in 1995, hit for a much better average in 1996, then saw a drop in both areas in 1997. He had a bench role with the New York Mets during the 2000-02 seasons and saw limited time with the Anaheim Angels as well, but he did better while in Pittsburgh, so they parted ways at the right time. He had a 1.6 WAR in 1996 and -1.1 in his other six seasons combined.
Esteban Loaiza – I saved the best player for last. Loaiza was a 22-year-old starter in Double-A in 1994, who jumped right to the majors as a full-time starter in 1995. He had solid stats in 1994, but nothing to suggest that he was ready to skip Triple-A, and his rookie year played out that way. He threw 172.2 innings for the 1995 Pirates, leading the league with 31 starts. He also led the league in earned runs allowed. He had a 5.16 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP. He ended up spending half of the 1996 season in Triple-A and was around with the Pirates until mid-1998 when they dealt him for Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel. He was a decent back-end starter for his first eight seasons in the majors until he had a wild 2003 season in which he won 21 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting. It was definitely a peak during his 14-year career, with 7.2 WAR that season and 15.7 in all of the other years combined. During the Freak Show 1997 season, he went 11-11, 4.13 in 196.1 innings.
While there were eight players added, the APP announcement of the signings all included something odd. This is what went to well over 150 papers I saw online while doing this research:
I highlighted the name Jason Patterson, who isn’t included above because there was no Jason Patterson. I have no idea how his name got there, but there’s actually never been a pro baseball player named Jason Patterson and none of the summaries for the players included a ninth name. Yet somehow that name made it into the transactions section all across the U.S.
The Pirates had 39 players on their 40-man roster after these additions and they selected infielder Freddy Garcia in the Rule 5 draft. They didn’t lose anyone. Garcia lasted the entire season, hitting .140 in limited use. He spent 1996 in the minors and returned for parts of three seasons, before finishing his big league career with the 1999 Atlanta Braves.
This list shows that just one of the eight players was around by 1999. Christiansen obviously paid big for the Pirates, giving them value as a player and much more value as a trade piece. Loaiza had a nice 1997 season after being rushed to the majors. He brought back Warren Morris, who had one memorable season for the Pirates. Mark Johnson was a replacement level player for most of his time in Pittsburgh, and John Ericks had some high points in a brief big league career sidetracked by injuries. It’s not the best group obviously, but if those were the only four additions, it would have been a nice group of choices. Wilson, Morel and Franklin weren’t bad additions either (maybe it was a year too early for Morel) and Konuszewski may have been selected because he made a late impression on scouts when nothing else was going on.
I think the important part when looking at who they added is that they didn’t overlook anyone to get these players on the list. If they protected all of those players and still missed someone who ended up being good elsewhere, then that would have looked bad. As a side note, they didn’t lose anyone in 1996, though Konuszewski, Wilson and Franklin were already off of the 40-man roster by that point.