Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History: The Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals Edition

This article is part 15 in our Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History series. Today we look at all of the qualified trades between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise. The two teams have made 13 trades together that we will cover below. As a quick reminder for this series, “qualified trades” include at least one player with big league experience (before or after the deal) and players going each way. That means no minor league trades that went nowhere, no waiver pickups or player purchases. While in Montreal, the two clubs made seven deals between 1978 and 2002. Since moving to Washington, there have been six trades, including a major one this past off-season. As usual, we start with the oldest deal first.

On March 29, 1978, the Pirates traded rookie pitcher Timothy Jones for 26-year-old pitcher Will McEnaney. Jones debuted in late 1977 with ten shutout innings, while McEnaney had four seasons in at the majors already. He had a 3.95 ERA in 86.2 innings over 69 appearances in 1977. This deal went nowhere for both teams. Jones never made the majors again, retiring with a 0.00 ERA. McEnaney got roughed up in six appearances with the Pirates to a tune of a 10.38 ERA. He was released at the end of the season and finished up his career with the 1979 St Louis Cardinals, though he went out with a 2.95 ERA in 64 innings.

Shortly after teams returned to action from the mid-season strike in 1981, the Pirates sent 1B/OF John Milner north of the border in exchange for veteran first baseman Willie Montanez. Neither team got much from their new veteran player. Montanez was a bench player who stayed around with the Pirates until July 1, 1982, getting 74 plate appearances in 65 games. Milner hit .202 in 57 games in Montreal over two seasons, before ending up back in Pittsburgh to finish his career in 1982. The names here were much bigger than the results.

Prior to the start of the 1986 season, the Pirates sent first baseman Jason Thompson to the Expos for minor league outfielder Ben Abner and minor league infielder Ronnie Giddens. Abner was a 22-year-old fifth round pick from two years earlier, who topped out at Double-A in 1987. Giddens was 24 years old, with three seasons in at the minors, playing in High-A in 1985. He lasted one season with the Pirates before his career came to an end. It was not a good return for Thompson, who was a three-time All-Star, who still added value up until the 1985 season. However, it worked out fine because he was done in the majors after 30 games and an -0.2 WAR with the Expos. Considering his seven-figure salary at the time, it was a good idea to get rid of him. It just would have been better if their return added something.

Right before Opening Day in 1989, the Pirates traded 25-year-old pitcher Brett Gideon to Montreal for veteran pitcher Neal Heaton. Gideon had a 4.66 ERA in 36.2 innings over 29 games with the 1987 Pirates, then spent the entire 1988 season in the minors. The 29-year-old Heaton went 3-10, 4.99 in 97.1 innings in 1988, moving to a bullpen role during the season, after starting a large majority of his previous games since debuting in 1982. After the trade, Heaton was a valuable swing-man on the 1989-91 Pirates, making 43 starts and 71 relief appearances. He had a 3.46 ERA in 362 innings. He was an All-Star during the 1990 season. This was a clear win for the Pirates, though they were only trading for one year of Heaton, and he returned to them as a free agent after a month of testing the waters. Gideon lasted 5.2 innings with the Expos, his only big league time outside of Pittsburgh.

On August 8, 1990, the Pirates made a three-for-one deal to help them with their playoff run. They acquired veteran lefty Zane Smith for Willie Greene, Scott Ruskin and Moises Alou. Smith did his job, going 6-2, 1.30 in 76 innings, helping the Pirates to their first of three straight NL East titles. He remained with the Pirates through 1994, then came back again in 1996. However, the Pirates were only getting him for two months when they made the trade. He became a free agent at the end of the 1990 season. Ruskin pitched two seasons in relief for Montreal and did okay work. Greene made the majors with the Cincinnati Reds and didn’t do much until he had two solid seasons in 1997-98, though he was a 3.1 WAR player over nine seasons in the majors. He was a first round pick, who did better than most first round picks, but he never lived up to the hype. If the Pirates just gave up those two players, it would have been a fairly even trade, considering they had to re-sign Smith to get more value. Alou of course went on to have a great career, putting up 39.9 WAR. Obviously the Pirates wouldn’t have got all of that out of him, but he would have possibly been around through 1997 to help that team with their playoff run. He was making a lot of money by then in 1997 terms, so maybe he would have been traded, but they would have got their value there instead.

Giving up a player like Moises Alou obviously scared the Pirates off of any trades with the Expos (that’s like 98% joking…). Their next deal didn’t happen until ten years later and it was a very minor one. The Pirates gave up minor league infielder Jarrod Patterson in exchange for 27-year-old pitcher Matt Skrmetta. Patterson never played for the Expos and his entire big league career consisted of 26 games over two seasons. Skrmetta debuted in 2000, pitching 5.1 innings over six games before the trade. He allowed ten runs in that brief time. With the Pirates in 2000, he pitched 9.1 innings over eight games, allowing 12 runs. That was his entire big league career.

The Pirates made another regrettable trade in December of 2002, acquiring pitcher Matt Herges for minor league pitchers Jon Searles and Chris Young. Herges was released during Spring Training in 2003, so the Pirates got nothing for him. That’s what the Expos got from their two players, but Young did well elsewhere for three years when the Pirates could have used him. During the 2005-07 seasons, he had 9.5 WAR. He had just 7.4 WAR in his other ten seasons (technically 11 since he was signed in 2013, but not healthy). I’m pretty sure that the 2005-07 Pirates could have found good use for Young. You can’t even give the Expos a win here because they included Young in a trade for Einer Diaz, who put up -0.8 WAR in his only season with the team, while Herges had a strong 2003 season. This is a rare trade where both teams lost. Pirates would have been better off keeping Young and Expos would have been better off keeping Herges.

The next time these teams did business, it was the Pirates and Nationals. They started off small, doing a trade that I didn’t like at the time, but it didn’t end up bad. The Pirates gave up outfielder JJ Davis for minor league outfielder Antonio Sucre, who never reached Double-A. Davis was a first round pick out of high school and a one-time top prospect, who got three brief shots with the Pirates. He did not do well, putting up a .448 OPS in 89 plate appearances. That would be an average month worth of work for some players. A decent small sample size, but being spread out over three years means he never got a real shot. Davis basically got the same look in Washington in 2005, and that was it. He finished his career with 117 plate appearances.

The two teams hooked up on a four-player deal in 2009 that worked out well for the Pirates. Pittsburgh sent outfielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett to Washington for reliever Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. Morgan put up 4.0 WAR in 4 1/2 seasons after the deal, while Milledge put up 1.0 WAR in 171 games for the Pirates. You could say that they took a loss in the outfield, put no one really missed Morgan’s crazy routes in the outfield and over-sliding second base on every steal. Milledge had a lot of minor on/off field issues that gave him a bad rep, but he was once a top prospect in baseball, so there was a reason to give him a long look. Burnett had a decent career as a reliever, though injuries limited him overall. His career was worth 5.1 WAR in 6 1/2 seasons after leaving Pittsburgh. Hanrahan made this trade a win for the Pirates. For his first 1 1/2 seasons, he was a solid reliever not getting a lot of attention. He got moved to the closer role for the next two years and he was an All-Star each year, picking up 76 saves. The Pirates dealt him to the Boston Red Sox at the perfect time and turned him into Mark Melancon. The Pirates actually lost the WAR here (9.1 to 6.5), but the trade value of Hanrahan got them the win. Burnett left the Nationals via free agency and Washington got a minor league player for Morgan, so those two added nothing in that department.

The next deal barely counts here, but I’ll mention it anyway. In 2013, the Pirates got catcher Brian Jeroloman for infielder Brian Bocock. The Pirates needed catching depth at the time, but Jeroloman only played in Triple-A for them and never made the majors. Bocock played 38 big league games, all before the trade.

The next deal was the aforementioned Mark Melancon for Taylor Hearn and Felipe Rivero. We pretty much know what happened here. It was a good trade for the Pirates that they won, but it didn’t end well. They were only giving up two months of Melancon at the time. Moving on…

At the very end of the 2016 season, the Pirates got minor league infielder Christopher Bostick for minor league catcher Taylor Gushue. No one won this deal, though it looked for a short time that the Pirates would when Bostick hit .296 in 20 games in 2017 for the Pirates. He had just two at-bats in 2018, before being sold to the Miami Marlins. He played 13 big league games after the deal and hasn’t signed a contract during the last two years, so he appears to be retired. Gushue became a free agent after the 2020 season and signed with the Chicago Cubs. He has not played in the majors.

That brings us to the last trade, which we won’t know how it turns out for quite some time. The Pirates gave up two years of Josh Bell for pitchers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean. The Pirates caught a bit of a break here when the NL decided not to have a DH in 2021, which means Bell has to play first base. The only real downside here is if Bell puts up big numbers in the first half of 2021, which would increase his trade value, though that won’t matter if either (or both) returning players reaches their upside. We will see.

So the big loss here for the Pirates is the Moises Alou deal, though no one really regretted it for quite some time after it was done because Zane Smith did his job well. The Pirates took wins on three of the deals, though they all individually fall behind the Alou loss. One deal is still up in the air, but it has potential upside for the Pirates. Seven deals went nowhere for either team, while they both ended up losing the Herges/Young deal in an epic failure for both sides.