This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 19th, The Gonzalez/LaRoche Trade; Lee Lacy Signs

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

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, while playing in Low-A ball.

Gonzalez pitched only 18 games for the Braves before he was diagnosed with a muscle tear that required Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return until June 18, 2008, and then he had a 4.28 ERA with 14 saves in 33.2 innings over the second half of the season. 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. He hit .258 in 2011, 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 Altoona 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 in 2007, with 71 runs, 42 doubles, 21 homers and 88 RBIs in 151 games, He then followed it up with a .270 average in 2008, with 66 runs, 32 doubles, 25 homer and 85 RBIs in 136 games. He was hitting .247/.329/.441, with 25 doubles, 12 homers and 40 RBIs 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). LaRoche had a very modest 3.0 WAR during his time with the Pirates, but the other three combined for 0.9 WAR over their big league career after the deal.

On this date in 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed outfielder/infielder Lee Lacy as a free agent. He spent seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and one partial year with the Atlanta Braves, prior to becoming a free agent. Lacy signed a six-year deal that went up slightly each year, starting at $141,667 in 1979, 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. 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, 94 doubles, 35 homers, 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. He left the Pirates via free agency after the 1984 season, then signed a free agent deal with the Baltimore Orioles one month later. Lacy put up 12.0 WAR during his time in Pittsburgh, led by his 4.0 WAR season in 1980. He hit .335 that year in 109 games, with 45 runs, 20 doubles, seven homers, 33 RBIs and 18 steals.

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. They took him in the 24th round out of high school in 2011. He was a second round pick three years later out of college. Burdi was injured often in the Minnesota 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 a 2.66 ERA, five saves and 38 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. He had a 2.25 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 20 innings for Fort Myers in 2015, followed by a 4.53 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 43.2 innings for Chattanooga of the Double-A Southern League. He then made eight scoreless appearances in the 2015 Arizona Fall League, where he allowed just three base runners and struck out 11 batters in eight innings. He was limited to three innings over three late April games with Chattanooga in 2016 due to an elbow injury. Burdi allowed one run over 17 innings for Chattanooga in 2017 before an elbow injury once again ended his season early. He had an 0.76 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in his limited time.

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 Pirates affiliates in 2018, throwing a total of 11 innings over ten appearances, before joining the big league 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 into his season, he was injured again. 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 of 2021, then he signed a minor league deal in May of 2022 with the San Diego Padres, who took over his long rehab process. He never appeared in a game for the Padres, who lost him on waivers to the Chicago Cubs in December of 2022. 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. After spending four years in the minors for Toronto, 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, 39 RBIs, ten steals and a .775 OPS 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 and he showed some power, he walked just 16 times all season in 531 plate appearances, leading him to a .716 OPS. He played for Dunedin of the High-A Florida State League in 1993, where he batted .304 in 123 games, with 72 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs, 19 steals and a .762 OPS. Stynes moved up to Knoxville of the Double-A Southern League in 1994. He played 136 games that season, putting up a .317 average, with 79 runs, 44 extra-base hits, 79 RBIs, 28 steals and a .786 OPS. After his trade to the Royals, he started the 1995 season with Triple-A Omaha of the American Association. He had a .275 average and a .773 OPS in 83 games. Stynes had three separate stints in the majors that year, resulting in 22 games for the Royals. He put up a .171/.256/.200 slash line in 39 plate appearances.

Stynes saw sporadic playing time with the Royals over the 1995-96 seasons, before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the 1997 season. He did better in 1996 than he did in his first season in the majors. He had a .293 average in 36 games in 1996, though it came with low walk/power numbers, resulting in a .667 OPS. He put up huge numbers in Omaha that year, with a .356 average and a .951 OPS in 72 games. Stynes was with Omaha for the early part of 1997, before the trade that sent him to the Reds. He had a .265 average and a .701 OPS in 82 games with Omaha. He ended up going to Triple-A Indianapolis of the American Association for a time after the deal, where he batted .361/.374/.488 in 21 games. He had an outstanding half-season with the Reds once he got called up, batting .348/.394/.485 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 in 1998, hitting .254 that season, with 52 runs, ten doubles, six homers, 27 RBIs, a .663 OPS 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/.310/.301 over 129 plate appearances in 73 games, while playing infield and outfield. He bounced back with a very nice 2000 season, hitting for a  .334 average, with 24 doubles, 12 homers, 40 RBIs and an .884 OPS 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. He missed a little time with an injury in 2001, but he batted .280 in 96 games, with 52 runs, 29 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and a .732 OPS. Stynes then signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs in 2002, where he hit .241 in 98 games, with 25 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 26 RBIs and a .688 OPS. He moved on again for 2003, signing a one-year deal with the Colorado Rockies.

Stynes set career highs in games (138), doubles (31), RBIs (73) and walks (48) with the 2003 Rockies, but he had a .255 batting average that year, to go along with huge home/road splits. He batted .291/.357/.507 in 73 games at Coors Field, and .218/.312/.315 in 65 games on the road. He hit ten of his 11 homers at home that season. 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 2004 Pirates, he hit .216 in 74 games, with 16 runs, ten doubles, one homer, 16 RBIs and a .562 OPS, 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 351 runs, 118 doubles, 51 homers and 265 RBIs. 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 short-season New York-Penn League at 21 years old in 1984. He hit .298 in 66 games, with 38 runs scored, 11 doubles, 23 RBIs, 34 steals and a .755 OPS. He jumped to Lynchburg of the Class-A Carolina League in 1985, where he hit .236 in 140 games, with 70 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 29 steals, 79 walks and a .659 OPS. Little split the 1986 season 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. He finished with 49 runs, 17 doubles, 39 RBIs and a .677 OPS. 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 Jackson for the Mets, but he was sent to High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League prior to the trade. He then stayed at the same level with the Pirates, playing out the year with Salem of the Carolina League. He combined to hit .280 that season in 119 games, with 70 runs, 13 doubles, 13 homers, 19 steals and 58 walks. Those were solid overall stats, though his brief Double-A time resulted in a .152 average.

Little played at Double-A Harrisburg in 1988, where he hit .290 in 118 games, with 60 runs, 14 doubles, six triples, six homers, 52 RBIs, 27 steals and a .748 OPS. He also briefly made it to Triple-A, where he went 1-for-16 in four games with Buffalo of the American Association. While in Buffalo in 1989, Little was called up to the Pirates on July 26th, when Gary Redus was placed on the disabled list. Little made his MLB debut on July 27th as a pinch-hitter. He got his second at-bat in a pinch-hitting role a week later, grounding out to third base in that game. 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 and a .726 OPS in 107 games with Buffalo in 1989. His last two seasons didn’t go as well. He had a .226 average in 36 games in 1990, followed by a .242 average and a .668 OPS over 62 games in 1991.

Little missed the last four months of the 1990 season after an injury while weightlifting led to an infection that required six weeks of antibiotic treatment. He broke a finger in July of 1991, ending his playing career, though he immediately became the first base coach of Buffalo, which started his new career. Little has managed 17 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.