Monday, August 16, 2010

Where Are They Now? A Tribute to the Lloyd McClendon Era (Part IV)

2004 Pittsburgh Pirates

By Marks and Lil Marks

The Pirates didn’t exactly get gems in the Aramis Ramirez trade (strikeout king Jose Hernandez, some guy named Matt Brubeck that doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, and Bobby “I’m a switch hitter but that’s all I bring to the table” Hill), but they made out like bandits in the Brian Giles trade. They asked for Xavier Nady, but the Padres insisted on shipping the Buccos some Canuck named Jason Bay and a struggling pitcher named Oliver Perez. The Aramis Ramirez debacle wasn’t exactly forgotten, but at least the Pirates fans finally had an ace. Oliver Perez was absolutely dominating batters in 2004. He finished the season with 239 strikeouts, a 2.98 ERA, and a league leading 11 SO/9. You have to understand that Pittsburgh fans had NEVER seen this type of pitching from their team in its entire history. It brought people to the ballpark that wanted to see this wily Mexican get in his “praying mantis stance” before he made another batter his victim.

"Oops, I burnt them again!"

Not only was Ollie torching batters, but Jason Bay was making Pirates fans say, "Brian Giles who?" Bay finished the season with a .282 AVG, 26 HR, 82 RBI, and the Rookie of the Year Award (first ever by a Pittsburgh Pirate). It looked like the Pirates finally had a few pieces to build on. How many times have I thought that in the last 18 years?

Jose Mesa: How could you not love Joe Table? The main story of Mesa’s career after he left the Pirates was his feud with Omar Vizquel, who claimed that Mesa was to blame for the Indians not winning the World Series in 1997. Mesa claimed that he would bean Vizquel every chance that he had, "Even my little boy told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him." Mesa stuck to his promise and plunked Vizquel twice after these comments were made.

Which one of these pictures features a SDEE blogger and which one is on Joe Table’s Wikipedia page? Notice the many similarities in these pictures: same team, ballpark, sunglasses, and the left arm wrapped around the shoulder.

Ian Snell: His Pirates career has been the definition of inconsistent. In AAA he threw a no hitter in May 2005 and he earned his first win as a major leaguer against Roger Clemens pitching 8 innings and allowing only 3 singles. Snell pitched pretty well for the Pirates in 2006 and 2007, but in 2008 and 2009 he really struggled and actually requested to be sent down to AAA in June 2009, where he struck out 17 of the 21 batters he faced in his first start after being “demoted.” The front office didn’t want to keep dealing with this AAA First Ballot Hall of Famer/Major League failure anymore and started shopping him around. A month later the Pirates traded Snell and Jack Wilson to Seattle for Jeff Clement and Ronny Cedeno. Every Pirates fan will miss Jack to some extent, but they did us a favor by taking Snell off of our hands. He finished the 2009 season fairly well, but the Mariners designated him for assignment on June 15, 2010 after going 0-5 with a career high 6.41 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, and 1.94 HR/9 in 2010.

John Van Benschoten
: First round pick? Yep. Arm surgeries? You better believe it. This is a player that many look to when citing examples of how bad the Pirates’ management really is. Van Benschoten led all of Division I with 31 homers his junior year at Kent State, so naturally the Pirates chose to convert him to a pitcher. Van Bullshtein, as he is often referred to by Pittsburghers that are too lazy to learn his name, suffered three shoulder surgeries within two years (2004 – 2006). In 2008 Van Benschoten pitched his final game with the Pittsburgh Pirates and he currently has the MLB record for highest career ERA with a minimum of 75 innings pitched (9.20). At least he’ll go down in the record books for something. Van Benschoten pitched for the White Sox AAA squad in 2009, where he continued to suck. The Yankees signed JVB to a minor league contract for the 2010 season. He started out in AA and after three days was promoted to AAA. Van Benschoten seemed to be cruising along and eying up a World Series ring as Mariano’s setup man when all of a sudden he limped off the field during an outing in early May. He missed two months with the injury and joined the Yankees’ rookie level team for nine days before being promoted to their high A team, where he has been pitching for a month.

Sean Burnett: Drafted by the Buccos in 2000, Burnett was a highly touted prospect. Known for an above average change-up and great control, Burnett was named the Pirates minor league pitcher of the year in 2001 and 2002. He was also named Baseball America’s #1 prospect in the Carolina League during this time. In 2003 Burnett had a 14-6 record with AA Altoona, then made his way to AAA Nashville in 2004, and shortly made his major league debut in May 2004. Burnett finished 2004 with a 5-5 record with a 5.02 ERA. He missed the entire 2005 season due to Tommy John’s surgery, then remained in the minor leagues with AAA Indianapolis in 2006 and 2007. In May 2008 Burnett made his first MLB start since August 2004 against the San Francisco Giants. His outing was unimpressive, two earned runs over 2/3 of an inning. The rest of his time spent with the Pirates was in the bullpen until he was traded to Washington along with Nyjer “I’ve led the league in caught stealing two years in a row but I’m still considered a good base stealer” Morgan for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan. Burnett is currently pitching out of the bullpen with a career best 2.88 ERA.

Maybe if you turned your hat straight you could find the strike zone.

Mike Johnston: Fun fact: Mike is only the second player in the history of baseball to play with Tourette syndrome. That’s all I got.

José Castillo: Following the 2003 season, Castillo made the rare jump from AA to the major leagues. This was mainly attributed to his defensive capabilities. Being a former shortstop, he had better range and arm strength than most second baseman. During Castillo’s four years as a Bucco he never put together a solid season. His inability to be patient at the plate combined with his habit of swinging for the fences prevented him from ever hitting for a high average. Castillo was released by the Pirates after the 2007 season, in which he was primarily used as a pinch hitter after losing his starting job at second base to Freddy Sanchez. José signed with the Florida Marlins before the 2008 season but was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco Giants before the season started. Castillo began the season as the Giants starting third baseman, but was designated for assignment in August. The Houston Astros picked up Castillo a week later and he played 15 games for them. Castillo signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals before the 2009 season, but he did not make the team. With his major league career behind him just as he turned 28 years old, José headed to Taiwan to play for the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions. Really? Is there a Slurpee machine in the dugout? At some time during the season, Castillo headed to Venezuela to play for the Caracas Lions, a team he often played for during the winter early in his career. Castillo had an interesting encounter with armed men on motorcycles in Venezuela. Surprisingly Mondesi’s house was the ONLY website IN THE WORLD that cared about this. Castillo is currently moving his world tour of mediocrity to Japan, where he plays for the Yokohama BayStars.

Slowpoke Rodriguez as Jose Castillo in Pittsburgh Pirates, The Movie.

Chris Stynes: The Buccos were somehow able to snatch Chris Stynes from the free agent pool in 2004. I don’t know what the other General Managers were thinking. His stat line that year: 74 G, 162 AB, 16 R, 35 H, 1 HR, 16 RBI, .216 BA, .266 OBP, .296 SLG. Now THAT’S the kind of production I want out of my third baseman. Needless to say, he retired after the 2004 season.

José Bautista: His career started in a very interesting manner when the Pirates left him off their 40 man roster and the Orioles nabbed him in the Rule V Draft. Thank God we signed Chris Stynes instead of giving Joey Bats a chance at third base…vomit. In his rookie year, Bautista became the first player ever to play for five teams in a season, so basically the only thing he learned that year was his way around various airports. He was picked up off waivers by Tampa Bay on June 3, traded to Kansas City on June 28, traded to the New York Mets on July 30, and without playing a game in New York he was traded back to the Pirates. Bautista played for the Pirates from 2004 – 2008 and consistently hit between .230 - .260 with 15 home runs per year. He had a great glove at third, but no one shed a tear when he left. Fast forward to 2010 and he is absolutely raking the ball, leading MLB in home runs with 36 (on pace for 51) and third in RBI with 88 (on pace for 125). Am I pissed that the Pirates gave up on Bautista? Of course I am. But Bautista is a free agent after next year, so it wouldn’t have done anything except give us two more prospects to mess up.

Rubén Mateo: Mateo only played 19 games with the Pirates so it’s easy to forget about him. He was shipped off to Kansas City in July 2004, which marked the end of his major league career. In 2007 Mateo played for Milwaukee’s AA team for 24 games, then joined an Independent League team later in the season called the Newark Bears. He started the 2008 season with a Mexican League AAA team named Vaqueros Laguna and returned to the Newark Bears later that season to join forces with Randall Simon and Bobby Hill. Seeing those three together in an Independent League must have been a real treat. Mateo was last seen playing on a Mexican League team called the Broncos de Reynosa, where he played eight games. I assume they told him to leave the country because his OBP was .236.

Freddy Sanchez: Freddy’s breakthrough year came in 2006 where he received 850,000 write-in votes to make his All-Star debut at PNC Park and won the NL batting title beating out Miguel Cabrera on the last day of the season. In 2007 he made his second All-Star appearance and finished the year batting .300 and a career high 11 home runs. The Pirates signed Sanchez to a two year deal in 2008 with an option for 2010. That year Sanchez batted .271 with 9 home runs. Freddy was selected to his third All-Star Game in 2009 and a few weeks after the mid-summer classic, the Pirates sent Sanchez close to his home in Hollywood to play for the San Francisco Giants for minor league prospect Tim Alderson. Freddy is currently having a subpar season for the Giants hitting .255 to which San Francisco responded by acquiring Mike Fontenot from the Cubs to fill in at second base when needed.

Do you have any more gum?

Daryle Ward: The only player to hit a homerun on the fly into the Allegheny at PNC Park got his start in Pittsburgh by being called up to replace Raul Mondesi in 2004. Ward started off strong by hitting for the cycle (the last Pirate and only father-son pair to do so). Ward signed with the Washington Nationals in 2006 and was traded to the Braves in August. He signed one year deals in 2007 and 2008 with the Cubs to occasionally fill in for Derek Lee and pinch hit. Since 2009 Ward has been playing for various minor league teams and is now batting .295 with 14 HRs and 71 RBIs for the Newark Bears. Do yourself a favor and look at the 2009 Newark Bears roster. For those of you that are not familiar with the Independent League, it is primarily made up of guys that played at Division III schools and never played a day in the minors. There were about 15 former major league players on the 2009 Newark Bears roster!

Ty Wigginton: Wiggy was dealt to the Pirates as a part of the Kris Benson trade. Ty was bad offensively and even worse defensively. In 2005 Wiggy made a case for the Pirates to hang on to him, batting .365 in his final 22 games, but it wasn’t enough and he was released. Ty signed a one year deal with Tampa Bay in 2006 and then signed a three year deal with them after the season. Half way through the 2007 season Wigginton was traded to Houston for Dan Wheeler. Houston allowed Ty to become a free agent after the 2008 season by failing to tender his contract, a move that did not sit well with Astros fans similar to the Pirates decision to non-tender Matt Capps before the 2010 season. At this point Wiggy had three straight 20+ home run seasons and was hitting for average as well. In 2009 Ty signed a two year deal with Baltimore where he has discovered the only perk of playing for a last place team…an easy trip to the All Star Game. He is currently batting .260 with 18 HRs and 60 RBIs.

Fun fact: Wigginton delivered his own son in 2006 when his wife unexpectedly went into labor.

Get Wiggy wit it!

Raúl Mondesí: Known for his 6 years in Los Angeles where he was a fan favorite displaying speed, ‘belly buster’ dives, and a cannon for an arm, Mondesi won ROY in 1994 and two Gold Gloves (1995 and 1997). In 2003 he hit .272 with 24 HR and 71 RBIs with the Yankees and Diamondbacks. Now here’s where the comedy starts and there was even a Pittsburgh sports blog dedicated to the player that escaped the McClatchy/Nutting reign. From Mondesi’s House: Just 26 games after signing with the Pirates, Mondesi told the front office that he was the victim of an extortion plot by former hitting instructor Mario Guerrero and that his family in the Dominican Republic was in danger, claiming that he would have to leave and may never play baseball again. The Pirates allowed Mondesi to return home during the season but quickly grew tired/skeptical of his story and ultimately released him a week later. With his life fully in order, Mondesi signed a contract a mere 10 days later with Anaheim, a deal that was quickly investigated by Major League Baseball due to the questionable circumstances. Shortly after he signed with the Angels, he tore his quad (karma?) and was placed on the DL. He was released by the Angels in July of '04 for not showing up for his rehab therapy.

Mondesi tried to make a comeback with Atlanta in 2005, but hit .211 with 4 HR in 41 games and retired. In Raul’s post-baseball life he has kept pretty busy by stealing power and running for office in the Dominican Republic. His political career (from Wikipedia): In May 2006, running on the ballot of the Dominican Liberation Party, he was elected to a seat in the Dominican Republic's Chamber of Deputies, representing his home province San Cristóbal. In November 2007, he switched sides aligning himself with the Dominican Revolutionary Party after discrepancies with the government over humanitarian aid to be given to his province after Tropical Storm Noel. Newly elected mayor for his hometown with the Dominican Revolutionary Party on May 16, 2010 for 6 years.

"Hit and run, eh? Looks like I'm taking this pitch."

Hope you guys are all still enjoying the series. The last installment will be Part V.

Beck – Loser


  1. Damn you for jogging my memory regarding Chris Stynes! I don't think there is a Bucco I have ever disliked as much as Stynes. From his scruffy facial hair, to his absurd batting stance and finally, his all around terrible play. It's players like Stynes that really have Pirates fans always questioning management. How could he have been the best third baseman available at the time? You're telling me there was not a guy in the free agent pool that could hit 10 home runs and bat .230 for the season?

  2. Yeah definitely one of the worst Buccos of our generation. The frustrating thing is that there was no need to sign a crappy free agent even if he was a step up from Stynes. There was a hot prospect in our system (Jose Bautista) that could have hit .250 and 10 homers, but we left him off the 40 man roster to sign Chris Stynes! They never cease to amaze me.

  3. Well done as always. This was quite a year for the Pirates. Marx, you guys are getting better and better at writing these.
    Did anyone else like to do the "Daaaaaaaryllll, Daaaaaaaaryllll" chant when he came to PNC Park as an Astro? It's just so easy. I think people still did it when he was on the Pirates.

  4. You forgot to mention how Mesa has the same closed-mouth, half smile expression in both photos.

  5. Joe - Thank you very much. I honestly forgot about the Daaaaaaaaaarylll taunting until now but I did enjoy that.

    Rickel - Very true, he looks less than thrilled in each picture. Maybe Mike can give us more insight on how the exchange went. I'm guessing something like...

    Mike: "Would you mind taking a picture with me?"

    Mesa: "Grunt."

  6. That's pretty close. It was a mix of a grunt and "sure" but I thought he was caught a little off guard because I was absurdly excited about this opportunity and nobody else was stopping him for a picture. The shocker here though is when I said thanks, he responded with a grunt/"you're welcome, sir".

    ***On a side note, a couple minutes earlier, Abraham Nunez refused to take a picture with me.

  7. Hahaha wow...Nunez refusing to take a picture makes the story even better. He was probably pissed because he was hitting .210.

  8. Looking back on it, I'm not too upset even though a picture with Abe would be hilarious. That Mesa picture is probably my favorite picture.
    If I had any time to blog, I would have had a comprehensive look at the Pirates last 3 drafts and how these philosophies will change the team for the better. Even if Tallion and Allie blow out their entire upper and lower extremities.