This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 23rd, Bobby Bonilla and the Al Martin Trade

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one transaction of note.

The Trade

On this date in 2000, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Al Martin to the San Diego Padres for two minor leaguers (Geraldo Padua and Jim Sak) and John Vander Wal. Neither of the two minor leaguers the Pirates received made it to the majors. Vander Wal was 33 years old at the time of the trade. He hit .272 in 1999 with the Padres, setting career highs in homers with six and RBIs with 41. Martin had hit .277 with a career high 24 homers in 1999. He spent eight years with the Pirates, hitting .280 with 107 homers and 152 steals in 897 games. After the trade, Martin started off strong for the Padres, hitting .306 with 11 homers and 62 runs scored through 93 games before they traded him to the Seattle Mariners. His stats fell off greatly there, hitting .237 in 142 games through the end of the 2001 season. He didn’t play in 2002, then returned for 100 games with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003, his last year in the majors. Vandel Wal had a breakout season in 2000 with the Pirates. He hit .299 with 24 homers and 94 RBIs. He had been used as a pinch-hitter often his entire Major League career but given the chance to start in Pittsburgh, he excelled. At the 2001 trading deadline, the Pirates sent him to the San Francisco Giants in the Jason Schmidt deal, which didn’t work out well. Vader Wal was hitting .278 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 97 games at the time of the deal.

The Players

Bobby Bonilla, 3B/OF for the 1986-91 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Pirates in 1981 as a non-drafted free agent. Bonilla didn’t light the minors on fire early in his career. At 18 years old in 1981, he batted .217 with no homers while playing for the Gulf Coast League Pirates. He returned to the level the next season and hit .228 with five homers in 47 games. Not many MLB success stories begin with two poor showings in the GCL, but Bonilla had an incredible jump over just one year, which put him on the prospect maps. He jumped to High-A ball in 1983, skipping three levels. He hit .256 in 136 games, with 78 walks, 28 stolen bases, 37 extra-base hits and 88 runs scored. Bonilla moved up to Double-A in 1984 and saw a very slight dip in production across the board, still putting up solid stats for being considered young for the level. A broken leg in 1985 limited him to just 39 games. After five seasons in the minors, he had yet to reach Triple-A. Between that fact and the injury, the Pirates felt safe leaving him off of the 40-man roster that winter. However, on December 10, 1985, he was taken by the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 draft. Bonilla spent half of 1986 there before the Pirates reacquired him in exchange for pitcher Jose DeLeon. In 138 games during his rookie season, he hit .256 with 62 walks and just three homers. In 1987 he had a strong sophomore showing, batting .300 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs. He was playing third base and outfield prior to 1988, but that season he took over full-time at third base and put up another strong season at the plate. He drove in 100 runs, scored 87 times, hit 24 homers and drew 85 walks. He made the All-Star team that year, finished 14th in the National League MVP voting and won the Silver Slugger award.

In 1989 Bonilla hit .281 with 37 doubles, ten triples, 24 homers, 86 RBIs, 76 walks and 96 runs scored. He also led the league with 163 games played, tying Bill Mazeroski’s team mark for games played in one season. He made his second of four straight All-Star appearances and finished 16th in the NL MVP voting. The 1990 season was the best of his career. He set career highs in both runs scored with 112 and RBIs with 120, while batting .280 with 39 doubles and 32 homers. He made the All-Star team, picked up his second Silver Slugger award, and finished second to teammate Barry Bonds in the MVP voting, as they helped the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since winning the 1979 World Series. In the six-game NLCS that year he hit .190 with one RBI. In 1991 Bonilla had another outstanding season, scoring 102 runs, driving in 100 run and leading the league in doubles with 44, all while taking a career high 90 walks. His home run total dropped to 18, but his .883 OPS was his best while in Pittsburgh. In the NLCS that postseason he hit .304 with six walks. In that off-season, he signed a lucrative free agent deal with the New York Mets, which he still makes money on to this day.

Bonilla played in New York through the middle of the 1995 season, which ended up being the best year of his career. He saw a drop in production in 1992, but bounced back in 1993 by setting a career high with 34 homers, while making his fifth All-Star game appearance. Bonilla moved back to third base in 1994 and was doing well when the league shut down due to the strike. He had an .878 OPS and 20 homers in 108 games. He was putting up a .984 OPS through 80 games in 1995 when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Bonilla kept up his big offense after the trade and finished the year with a .963 OPS, which was 80 points higher than his second best season output. It also resulted in his sixth All-Star appearance. Bonilla had a strong 1996 season before reaching free agency. He hit .287 with 28 homers, 116 RBIs and 75 walks. He signed with the Florida Marlins in 1997 and helped them to their first World Series title by hitting .297 with 73 walks, 39 doubles, 17 homers and 96 RBIs. That was his last big year in the majors and he ended up playing for five different teams during his final four seasons. He split 1998 between the Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, then spent one year each with the Mets (1999), Atlanta Braves (2000) and St Louis Cardinals (2001) before retiring. He finished his 16-year career with a .279 average, 1,084 runs scored, 2,010 hits, 408 doubles, 1,173 RBIs and 287 homers. During the 11-season stretch from 1987 until 1997, Bonilla accumulated 42.6 WAR on offense. His defensive numbers drag down his career total to 30.3 WAR, with 14 negative dWAR seasons to his credit.

Jaff Decker, outfielder for the 2014-15 Pirates. He was a 2008 first round pick, selected 42nd overall by the San Diego Padres out of high school in Arizona at 18 years old. He signed right away and put up outstanding numbers during his rookie season, but it took him some time to make the majors. He hit .352 with 55 walks and 51 runs scored in 49 games for San Diego’s Arizona Summer League team in 2008. He moved up to Low-A in his first full season and hit .299 with 16 homers and 85 walks in 106 games. Decker was injured for part of the 2010 season in High-A, which limited him to 79 games. He moved up to Double-A in 2011 and batted just .239, though it came with 103 walks, 19 homers and 15 stolen bases. He attended the Arizona Fall League after the season and put up an .841 OPS in 24 games. Another injury sidetracked his 2012 season and he played poorly in his limited time, batting .201 in 56 games. Decker moved up to Triple-A in 2013 and had an .824 OPS in 105 games, though he was playing for an high offense team in the Pacific Coast League. The Padres brought him to the majors for the first time in June for two games, then he returned in August for a longer stint, where he hit .154 in 13 games. Decker was acquired by the Pirates in November of 2013 from the Padres, along with pitcher Miles Mikolas, for outfielder prospect Alex Dickerson. During the 2014 season, Decker played just five games in the majors, going 0-for-5 at the plate. He spent the rest of the year in Triple-A, where he hit .257 with six homers in 104 games. He batted .214 over 23 games with the Pirates in 2015, then got released after the season. Decker saw brief big league time with the 2016 Tampa Bay Rays and the 2017 Oakland A’s after leaving Pittsburgh, but he never lived up to his early prospect potential. His big league career consisted of 77 games, with a .174 average and one home run. He retired after he spent the 2018 season in Triple-A, split between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.

Jason Boyd, pitcher for the Pirates in 1999 and then again in 2004. He was originally an eighth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1994 out of John A. Logan College in Illinois. It’s a school that has produced 30 draft picks, but just one big league player. Boyd was a starter during his first three seasons of pro ball, before moving to the bullpen in Double-A in 1997. He was then picked by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft, which was held on November 18, 1997. After 15 relief appearances at Triple-A in 1998, Boyd required surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. He returned healthy in 1999 and he had a 4.52 ERA in 75.2 innings over 44 appearances, while playing at a hitter-friendly park in the Pacific Coast League. The Pirates acquired him as the player to be named later from Arizona on August 25, 1999 in the Tony Womack trade, which happened exactly six months earlier. Boyd reported to Triple-A Nashville, where he finished his minor league season with five scoreless outings. He made his Major League debut on September 10th, pitching four late season games in relief, allowing two runs over 5.1 innings. Near the end of spring training in 2000, the Pirates put him on waivers, where he was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers. They immediately put him back on waivers, where he was picked up by the Phillies. Boyd had a 6.55 ERA in 34.1 innings over 30 outings with the 2000 Phillies. He spent all of 2001 in Triple-A and pitched great, posting a 1.97 ERA in 59.1 innings. He didn’t get the call to the majors though, and became a free agent after the season. He signed with the San Diego Padres, who released him in August after he had a 7.94 ERA in 23 games and 28.1 innings. He signed with the Boston Red Sox for the remainder of the season, but did not pitch in the majors again that year. Boyd signed with the Cleveland Indians and had his best big league season, posting a 4.30 ERA in 52.1 innings over 44 appearances. After pitching parts of three seasons in the majors with three different teams, the Pirates took him off waivers from the Indians on October 1, 2003. In 2004 for the Pirates, he pitched 12 games in the majors, going 1-0 5.54 in 13 innings. He was granted free agency following the season and he finished out his pro career in Triple-A for the Texas Rangers in 2005. Boyd pitched 113 games in the majors, going 5-2, 5.74 in 133.1 innings.

Mike Smith, pitcher for the Pirates in 1989. He was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as a non-drafted amateur free agent in 1981 at 20 years old. He was a reliever from the start of his pro career and dominated during his first two seasons, posting a 1.37 ERA for Billings of the Pioneer League in 1981, then a 1.23 ERA in 80.1 innings in 1982 for Tampa of the Florida State League, skipping right over Low-A ball. Smith put up solid stats in limited work in Double-A in 1983, then he made the Reds Opening Day roster in 1984. Despite being fast-tracked to the majors, he pitched just 12 big league games from 1984 through 1986. After giving up six runs over 10.1 innings and eight appearances in April of 1984, the Reds sent him back to the minors, where he remained until the end of the 1985 season. He pitched twice for Cincinnati in 1985, appearing in back-to-back games in early October. In 1986, he made two more big league appearances, both mid-September outings. The Reds traded him to the Montreal Expos on December 1, 1986. He made another five MLB appearances in September of 1988, after spending two full Triple-A season with the Montreal affiliate in Indianapolis. On November 14, 1988 the Expos traded him to the Baltimore Orioles, who in turn dealt him to the Pirates on June 22, 1989 in exchange for longtime Pirates minor league outfielder Tony Chance. Smith pitched 16 games in relief for the 1989 Pirates, throwing 24 innings total, with a 0-1, 3.75 record. That loss was the only one of his Major League career. His pitched 33 games in the majors over his five seasons and his teams went 8-25 in those games. He was released by the Pirates after the 1989 season and pitched one more year in the minors while with the New York Yankees, before a five-year layoff. He returned to play in Independent ball in 1996, then again from 1998 until 2000. At 39 years old in 2000, he went 10-5, 3.13 in 126.2 innings for Zion of the Western League. Smith was one of two relief pitchers named Mike Smith in the majors in 1989. Both were actually with the Orioles at Triple-A Rochester for the first 2 1/2 months of the 1989 season.

Eddie Vargas, first baseman for the Pirates in 1982 and 1984. He originally signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1977 at 18 years old out of Puerto Rico. That first year he batted .315 in 47 games for the Gulf Coast League Pirates. He struggled with the jump to full-season ball the next year, batting .236 with seven homers in 113 games. Vargas had a breakout season in 1979, hitting .282 with 31 homers for Shelby of the Western Carolinas League. In Double-A the next year he slugged 24 homers and drove in 87 runs. Despite those strong power numbers he repeated the level in 1981 and hit .274 with 25 homers and 84 RBIs. He reached Triple-A for the first time in 1982 and hit .311 with 28 homers and 80 RBIs. The Pirates called him up in September and gave him nine plate appearances in eight games. He singled in his first two at-bats in the majors, both as a pinch-hitter. He was injured for the first two months of the 1983 season, but managed to hit .338 with 14 homers in 73 games at Triple-A after he returned in June. The Pirates recalled him in September with 23 games left on the schedule, though he sat on the bench the entire time. Vargas began the 1984 season on the Opening Day roster for the Pirates, but struggled in limited playing time and was sent down to the minors on June 15th when Amos Otis came off of the disabled list. The Pirates called Vargas back up in August and he hit .333 the rest of the way, finishing with a .226 average. He spent all of 1985 in the minors before the Pirates released him after the season. Vargas went unsigned in 1986, then played the 1987 season in Mexico. He returned to affiliated ball in 1988 with the Cincinnati Reds and 1989 with the California Angels, but never appeared in another big league game. He played in Mexico for the 1990-92 seasons before retiring. His real name is Hediberto and his was mainly known as “Hedi” during his pro career, which sounded a lot like Eddie, which is where that nickname came from, though Hedi was used much more often.