Saturday, July 20, 2013
Best deadline deal ever: Pirates
By David Schoenfield
Throughout July we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East and AL Central so far, and are now on the NL Central.
THE TEAM: Pittsburgh Pirates
THE YEAR: 1986
THE SITUATION: A once-proud franchise that had won six division titles in the 1970s (and two World Series), the Pirates had fallen on bad times by the mid-'80s -- the cocaine scandal that rocked baseball had been centered around Pittsburgh, with the Pirates' mascot serving as a dealer to the players. The team lost 104 games in 1985, leading to the firing of longtime skipper Chuck Tanner and the hiring of rookie skipper Jim Leyland. On July 22, the Pirates were 39-52, in last place in the NL East. The Chicago White Sox weren't much better at 42-50, but they were just 6.5 games behind the Angels in the AL West and looking for pitching help.
THE TRADE: The Pirates had originally signed Bobby Bonilla as an undrafted free agent in 1981. He reached Double-A in 1984 but then broke his leg in spring training of 1985 and missed most of the season. The Pirates left him off their 40-man roster in the offseason and the White Sox selected him in the Rule 5 draft. Bonilla was hitting .269/.371/.355 for the White Sox, but had just two home runs in 234 at-bats and didn't really have a regular position in the field. Unimpressed, the White Sox sent Bonilla back to the Pirates for pitcher Jose DeLeon, who had pitched well in 1983 and 1984 but went 2-19 in 1985 with a 4.70 ERA and had spent most of 1986 pitching in Triple-A.
THE AFTERMATH: DeLeon pitched well down the stretch for the White Sox, going 4-5 with a 2.96 ERA, but they finished 72-90. He went 11-12 the next season with a solid 4.02 ERA (115 ERA+) and was then traded to the Cardinals for Lance Johnson, who produced 21.2 WAR in eight seasons with the White Sox. Meanwhile, Bonilla's power began developing in 1987 (15 home runs) and from 1988 to 1991 would average 24 home runs and 102 RBIs, finishing second in the 1990 NL MVP vote and third in 1991 as the Pirates won the first two of three straight division titles.