This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 23rd, Bobby Bonilla, 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 he excelled after being given the chance to start in Pittsburgh. 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. His .608 OPS was just slightly higher than the previous season. 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 skipped to High-A ball in 1983, skipping over two levels in the process. That season he hit .256 in 136 games, with 78 walks, 28 stolen bases, 37 extra-base hits and 88 runs scored for Alexandria of the Carolina League. Bonilla moved up to Double-A Nashua of the Eastern League in 1984 and saw a very slight dip in production across the board (20 point drop in his OPS), still putting up solid stats for being considered young for the level. He batted .265 in 136 games, with 74 runs, 19 doubles, 11 homers, 71 RBIs and 15 steals. A broken leg in 1985 limited him to just 39 games, which he spent with Prince William of the Carolina League. 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. He had a .715 OPS in 75 games with Chicago, and a .650 OPS in 63 games with Pittsburgh.

Bonilla had a strong sophomore showing in 1987, batting .300 with 33 doubles, 15 homers, 77 RBIs and an .832 OPS. 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. To go along with his .274 average in 159 games, he finished with 87 runs, 32 doubles, seven triples, 24 homers, 100 RBIs and 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. His .849 OPS was seven points higher than the previous year, and it was the third straight season in which he improved over the previous year.

The 1990 season could be considered the best of Bonilla’s career, though he had slightly higher WAR totals in both 1988 and 1989. 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, Bonilla hit .190 with one RBI. He had another outstanding season in 1991, 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. He played more right field during the 1990-91 seasons than third base, giving the Pirates an outfield of Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds. Bonilla became a free agent that off-season and signed a lucrative deal with the New York Mets, which he still makes money on to this day due to deferred payments. During his time in Pittsburgh, he hit .284 in 843 games, with 483 runs, 191 doubles, 114 homers, 500 RBIs and an .838 OPS, which was nine points higher than his final career mark.

Bonilla played in New York through the middle of the 1995 season, which ended up being the best year of his free agent deal. He saw a drop in production in 1992, hitting .249 in 128 games, with 23 doubles, 19 homers, 70 RBIs and 66 walks during his first season in New York. He bounced back in 1993 by setting a career high with 34 homers, while making his fifth All-Star game appearance. He had a .265 average in 139 games, with 81 runs, 21 doubles, 87 RBIs and 72 walks. Bonilla moved back to third base in 1994 and was doing well when the league shut down due to the strike. At the time, he had an .878 OPS and 20 homers, 67 RBIs and 55 walks 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. He combined to hit .329 in 141 games, with 96 runs, 37 doubles, 28 homers and 99 RBIs .The season didn’t rate as well as previous years, due to a rise in offense around the league and very poor defensive numbers, which limited him to 3.4 WAR.

Bonilla had a strong 1996 season with the Orioles before reaching free agency. He hit .287 with 107 runs, 27 doubles, 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 played 100 games in 1998, hitting .249 with 11 doubles, 11 homers and 45 RBIs. He played just 60 games with the Mets in 1999, batting .160, finishing with a .579 OPS. With the 2000 Braves, he hit .255 in 114 games, with five homers and 28 RBIs. He started 63 games in the outfield and one at third base that season, but he only played 22 complete games. Bonilla hit .213 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 93 games (31 starts) for the 2001 Cardinals. 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 Fort Wayne of the Midwest League in his first full season and hit .299 with 25 doubles, 16 homers and 85 walks in 106 games. Prior to the 2010 season, he was rated as the 74th best prospect according to Baseball America. Decker was injured for part of that 2010 season in High-A, suffering a hamstring injury early in the year, which limited him to 79 games. He batted .262 with 14 doubles, 17 homers and 47 walks for Lake Elsinore of the California League that year. He moved up to Double-A San Antonio of the Texas League in 2011 and batted just .239, though it came with 103 walks, 90 runs, 29 doubles, 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 (plantar fasciitis) sidetracked him during his 2012 season and he played poorly in his limited time, batting .201 in 56 games, spent mostly in San Antonio, though he also played nine rehab games in rookie ball and padded that .201 average.

Decker moved up to Triple-A in 2013 and had a .284 average, 34 extra-base hits, and an .824 OPS in 105 games, though he was playing for an high offense team (Tuscon) 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 outfield 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 Indianapolis of the International League, where he hit .257 with 27 doubles, six homers and 51 walks in 104 games. He split 2015 between Indianapolis and the Pirates, with similar results in the minors and slightly more time in the majors. He batted .214 over 23 games with the Pirates that year, 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. He batted .154 in 19 games with the Rays, and .200 in 17 games with Oakland, spending the better part of each season back in Triple-A. His big league career consisted of 77 games over five seasons, with a .174 average, 16 runs, one home run, five RBIs and 22 walks. He played between 16 and 20 games at all three outfield spots during that time. 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 began his pro career with Martinsville of the short-season Appalachian League, where he went 3-7, 4.17 in 69 innings. In 1995, he moved up to Piedmont of the Class-A South Atlantic League, where he had a 6-8, 3.58 record in 151 innings, with 129 strikeouts. In 1996, Boyd moved up to Clearwater of the High-A Florida State League. He went 11-8, 3.90 in 26 starts, with 120 strikeouts in 161.2 innings. After moving to the bullpen with Reading of the Eastern League, he went 10-6, 4.82 in 115.2 innings over 48 games (seven starts), with 98 strikeouts. 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 Tuscon of the Pacific Coast League 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 Tuscon 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 of the PCL, 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 Boyd 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. He had a 6.55 ERA in 34.1 innings over 30 outings with the 2000 Phillies. He spent all of 2001 in Triple-A with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League, and pitched great, posting a 1.97 ERA in 59.1 innings over 52 appearances. He had 12 saves and 66 strikeouts. 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 for 2002, but he got released 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 for 2003 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 after his first stint in Pittsburgh, the Pirates took him off waivers from the Indians on October 1, 2003. He almost ruined his career in the off-season due to two separate fights, which were not his first run-ins with the law. In 2004 for the Pirates, he pitched 12 games in the majors at the start of the season, going 1-0, 5.54 in 13 innings. On May 18th, he was sent to the minors so the Pirates could recall Mike Gonzalez, who ended up posting a 1.25 ERA over the rest of the season and then eventually took the closer role. Boyd remained in Nashville for 11 games before he broke his hand resulting in a suspension and him missing the remainder of the season. 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 out of Hinds Community College 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 and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings for Billings of the short-season Pioneer League in 1981. That was followed by a 1.23 ERA, 21 saves and 80 strikeouts in 80.1 innings in 1982 for Tampa of the Class-A Florida State League. Smith put up solid stats in limited work in Double-A with Waterbury of the Eastern League in 1983, going 2-5, 2.83 in 28.2 innings over 22 appearances. He broke his ankle running in the outfield in June and missed the remainder of the season. Despite limited time in 1983 and no Triple-A experience, he made the Reds Opening Day roster in 1984. He impressed by throwing 95 MPH with a lot of movement, which sometimes made it hard for him to throw strikes. Despite being fast-tracked to the majors, Smith 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 split the 1984 season between Triple-A (Wichita of the American Association) and Double-A (Vermont of the Eastern League), seeing more time at the lower level. Smith combined to go 6-5, 3.52 in 69 innings, with 69 strikeouts. The 1985 season was spent with Denver of the American Association, where he went 5-4, 4.85, with 17 saves and 67 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He pitched twice for Cincinnati in 1985, appearing in back-to-back games in early October, giving up two runs in 3.1 innings.

In 1986, Smith got another brief shot at the majors after spending the year in Triple-A. In two mid-September outings for the Reds, he allowed five runs and seven hits in 3.1 innings. 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 (American Association). He had a 4.69 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 86.1 innings in 1987, then improved to a 2.57 ERA in 63 innings in 1988. With the Expos that season, he allowed three runs in 8.2 innings. 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 had a 5.75 ERA in 20.1 innings in Triple-A (Rochester of the International League) before the trade. After putting up a 2.65 ERA in nine appearances with Buffalo of the American Association, the Pirates called him up in late July. He 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. During his five stints in the majors, he had a 1-1, 4.71 record and one save in 49.2 innings. 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, with 13 extra-base hits and an .810 OPS in 47 games for the Gulf Coast League Pirates. He struggled with the jump to full-season ball the next year (Charleston of the Class-A Western Carolinas League), and even spent part of the season back in the short-season New York-Penn League with Niagara Falls. Between the two stops, he combined for a .236 with 53 runs, 23 doubles, seven homers, 41 RBIs and 40 walks in 113 games. Vargas had a breakout season in 1979, hitting .282 with 76 runs, 23 doubles, 31 homers and 78 RBIs for Shelby of the Western Carolinas League. The only downside to his numbers was a 23:101 BB/SO ratio, which was a low walk total, coupled with a semi-high strikeout total for the era. With Double-A Buffalo of the Eastern League in 1980, he slugged 28 doubles, 24 homers and drove in 87 runs, while putting up a .271 batting average. He showed a slight increase in his walk rate, and a slight decrease in his strikeout rate, which was a positive while moving up a level. Despite those strong power numbers in 1980, Vargas repeated the level in 1981. He hit .274 in 125 games, with 23 doubles, 25 homers and 84 RBIs, while doubling his walk rate, finishing with 71 base on balls in 499 plate appearances.

Vargas reached Triple-A for the first time in 1982 with Portland of the Pacific Coast League and hit .311 with 87 runs, 27 doubles, 28 homers, 80 RBIs and 55 walks. 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 and even saw brief time in Double-A upon his return in June, but managed to hit .348 with 19 doubles and 12 homers in 53 games at Triple-A (then Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League) after he returned. 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 Hawaii, putting up a .761 OPS in 102 games, 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. In his two (technically three) seasons with the Pirates, he hit .256 in 26 games, with three doubles and five RBIs.

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