This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 19th, The Gonzalez/LaRoche Trade and the Lee Lacy Signing

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and one major trade and one major signing of note. The Pirates completed the Joe Musgrove for five prospects trade one year ago today, which we will expand upon in a future edition of the January 19th history article.

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 Chicago 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 Boston Red Sox for minor leaguers Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland. He played with four teams after leaving the Pirates, retiring after the 2015 season (technically during Spring Training in 2016).

On this date in 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed outfielder/infielder Lee Lacy as a free agent, after he spent seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and one partial year with the Atlanta Braves. Lacy signed a six-year deal that went up slightly each year, starting at $141,667 and going to $211,667 for the final season. Back in 1979, there was a re-entry draft for free agency, where as many as 13 teams could draft the same player, and Lacy reached the maximum number, with the Pirates ending up signing him. In six seasons in Pittsburgh, including the magical 1979 season, he hit .304 in 638 games, with 265 runs scored, 172 RBIs and 140 stolen bases. He played a lot of infield prior to joining the Pirates, but he made just four starts in the infield during his entire time in Pittsburgh.

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 out of college. Burdi was injured often in their minor league system before the Pirates acquired him in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. His first two seasons of minor league ball went fine, but it was downhill after that point. He debuted with 20 appearances in 2014 spread between Cedar Rapids of the Low-A Midwest League and Fort Myers of the High-A Florida State League. Burdi had a 4.15 ERA in 13 games in Low-A, but he threw seven scoreless appearances in High-A. He finished with 38 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. In 2015, he had a 2.25 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 20 innings for Fort Myers, followed by a 4.53 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 43.2 innings for Chattanooga of the Double-A Southern League. After the season, he made eight appearances in the Arizona Fall League and allowed just three base runners and no runs. In 2016, he was limited to three innings and three games with Chattanooga due to an elbow injury. In 2017, he allowed one run over 17 innings for Chattanooga before an elbow injury once again ended his season early.

Burdi was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2017 Rule 5 draft, 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 played rehab games in the minors with three different affiliates in 2018, throwing a total of 11 innings over ten appearances, before joining 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 arm injury in late April. He had a 9.35 ERA in 8.2 innings, though it came with 17 strikeouts. 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 took 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 active days in the majors, including 60 non-September days).

Chris Stynes, third baseman for the 2004 Pirates. 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 at 18 years old in pro ball, playing in the Gulf Coast League in 1991, where he hit .306 with 15 doubles, four homers, ten steals and 39 RBIs in 57 games. He moved up to the Low-A South Atlantic League in 1992, and hit .284 in 127 games for Myrtle Beach. That came with 67 runs scored, 36 doubles, seven homers and 28 stolen bases. While the average was good, he was just 16 times all season. In 1993, he played for Dunedin of the High-A Florida State League, where he batted .304 in 123 games, with 72 runs, 40 extra-base hits and 19 steals. Stynes moved up to Knoxville of the Double-A Southern League in 1994. He played 136 games that season, hitting .317 with 79 runs, 44 extra-base hits, 79 RBIs and 28 steals. After his trade to the Royals, he started the season with Triple-A Omaha of the American Association, but he had three separate stints in the majors.

Stynes saw sporadic playing time with the Royals over the 1995-96 seasons (58 games total), before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the 1997 season. He batted .171 in 22 games in 1995, then did better in 36 games in 1996, hitting for a .293 average, though it came with low walk/power numbers, resulting in a .667 OPS. He was with Omaha for the entire time before the 1997 trade to the Reds, and ended up going to Triple-A Indianapolis (American Association) for a time after the deal. However, he had an outstanding half-season with the Reds once he got called up, batting .348 in 49 games, with 31 runs scored, 28 RBIs and 11 steals.  Stynes mostly played left field in his first full season with the Reds (1998), hitting .254 with 52 runs, ten doubles, six homers and a career best 15 stolen bases (in 16 attempts) in 123 games. While it was by no means an impressive total, he drew 32 walks in 388 plate appearances, well above any previous walk rate in his pro career. He was a seldom-used bench player in 1999, hitting .239 over 129 plate appearances in 73 games, while playing infield and outfield. He bounced back with a very nice 2000 season, hitting .334 with 24 doubles, 12 homers and 40 RBIs 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. He missed a little time with injury in 2001, but he batted .280 in 96 games, with 52 runs and 29 extra-base hits. Stynes then signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs in 2002, and he hit .241 in 98 games, with 15 extra-base hits, 25 runs and 26 RBIs. He moved on again for 2003, signing a one-year deal with the Colorado Rockies.

In 2003 with the Rockies, Stynes set career highs in games (138), doubles (31), walks (48) 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. 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.  For the Pirates he hit .216 with one homer and 16 RBIs in 74 games before he was released on August 4, 2004. He made just one error in 71 games at third base that season. Stynes 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. In his ten-year big league career, he batted .275 in 828 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 Mineral Area College by the New York Mets in 1984. While 13 players have been drafted out of that school over the years, Little is the only one to make it to the majors. He debuted in pro ball with Little Falls of the New York-Penn League at 21 years old in 1984. He hit .298 in 66 games during the half season in short-season ball, with 38 runs scored, 11 doubles and 34 steals. In 1985, he jumped to Lynchburg of the Class-A Carolina League and hit .236 in 140 games, with 70 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 29 steals and 79 walks. In 1986, Little split the year between Lynchburg (58 games) and Jackson of the Double-A Texas League (40 games). He put up a .744 OPS in Lynchburg, but saw that number drop to .504 at the higher level. He also saw his stolen bases drop that year, both in number and success rate, going 11-for-21 on the season. Little 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, playing out the year with Salem of the Carolina League. He combined to hit .280 that season, with 19 steals and 58 walks, though his Double-A time resulted in a .152 average.

In 1988, Little played at Double-A Harrisburg and hit .290 with 60 runs, 52 RBIs and 27 steals in 118 games. He also briefly made it to Triple-A (Buffalo of the American Association), where he went 1-for-16 in four games. While in Buffalo 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, but he never made it back to the majors again. He put up a .295 average in 107 games with Buffalo in 1989, but he never approached that average in 1990-91, and played just 98 games total. He has managed 16 seasons in the minors since retiring as a player, six of them in the Pirates system. He’s been with the Colorado Rockies as a minor league manager since 2017. He also put in seven years as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.