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Jack Of All Trades: Bobby Bonilla

As any MLBTR reader knows, there are many different types of trades. It takes a certain kind of player to be traded in numerous different kinds of trades, but one such player is Bobby Bonilla. He was part of nearly every type of trade there is: as a prospect, for prospects, in a megadeal, even in an exchange of bad contracts. This doesn't even include the times he switched teams via the Rule 5 Draft, or when he became the highest-paid free agent in baseball history.

Let's review the transaction madness, shall we?

Bonilla was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1981. However, after just three home runs in 39 games for the Single-A Prince William Pirates of the Carolina League, Pittsburgh left him unprotected and the Chicago White Sox picked him up in the Rule 5 Draft. Bonilla handled the jump pretty well, hitting .269/.361/.355 with the 1986 White Sox. The Pirates managed to re-acquire him in July 1986, dealing established starter Jose DeLeon, who had been struggling terribly with Pittsburgh.

DeLeon went on to pitch reasonably well for Chicago in 1986-87, but Bonilla quickly established himself as a star for the Pirates. In his five full seasons with Pittsburgh, Bonilla posted OPS+ marks of 118, 143, 145, 132 and 149. He went to four All-Star games and helped the Pirates to two division titles. Clearly, Pittsburgh got the better end of that deal.

After Bonilla signed with the Mets, he performed reasonably well, but many of the other Mets didn't. As a result, smack in the middle of his best major league season, Bonilla was traded in July 1995, this time as the star player, for prospects Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa. While Buford and Ochoa never established themselves as starters, Bonilla picked up right where he left off in New York. After posting a 160 OPS+ with the Mets, he had a 139 OPS+ over the remainder of 1995 and helped Baltimore to the postseason in 1996 with an OPS+ of 114.

Bonilla then signed with the 1997 Marlins as a free agent, and helped them to a World Series title with his 125 OPS+. But by 1998, Florida was in firesale mode, and so Bonilla was one of the firesold, traded along with Gary Sheffield, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson and Manuel Barrios for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. (Piazza and Zeile, in turn were dealt for prospects.)

But Bonilla was finished as a useful major league hitter, posting just an OPS+ of 81 after heading to Los Angeles. The Dodgers had him under contract in 1999 for $5.9MM. The Mets, meanwhile, had a relief pitcher named Mel Rojas under contract for approximately $4.6MM in 1999, and Rojas had posted a 6.05 ERA in 1998. Therefore, an auspicious marriage of convenience occurred, with the two players getting exchanged for one another.

The deal helped neither team, with Rojas pitching to a 18.00 ERA for three teams in 1999. Bonilla, now 36 and largely unable to run, became New York's Opening Day right fielder and number five hitter, two roles he quickly lost in a season with an OPS+ of 48. In the spring of 2000, the Mets agreed to an annual payment of approximately $1.2MM a year from 2011 to 2035 to buy out Bonilla's 2000 contract worth $5.9MM.

So as Bonilla sits back and cashes Met checks well into his 70s, he can reflect on a truly fantastic legacy of trades.


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