First Pitch: Revisiting the Wandy Rodriguez Trade

On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Pirates designated Wandy Rodriguez for assignment. Coincidentally, one day later, Rudy Owens made his Major League debut for the Houston Astros. Owens didn’t fare well, giving up five runs on nine hits in 5.2 innings of work. But the end of Rodriguez’s tenure in Pittsburgh, and the debut of Owens give us a good chance to revisit the July 2012 trade.

The Pirates sent Owens, Robbie Grossman, and Colton Cain to Houston to get Wandy Rodriguez, who came with money being paid by the Astros. At the time of the deal, I didn’t like the trade. I had been a Wandy Rodriguez fan through his prime, but the stats showed that he was on a decline. He had been struggling with the Astros, putting up a 5.54 ERA in 63.1 innings in the two months leading up to the trade. His strikeout numbers saw an annual decline, dating back to 2008, and really dropping off in 2012.

What happened with Rodriguez after the trade was surprising, considering those trends. He had a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings with the Pirates at the end of the 2012 season. He returned in 2013, putting up a 3.59 ERA in 62.2 innings, before his injury. The strikeout rate took a bit of a jump in 2013, rising above the 2012 numbers, but still below the 2011 totals. His walks were down to a career best, and his 3.66 ERA in 137.2 innings looked good. But then the injury came, and that ended up being the downfall for his Pirates career. Injuries are impossible to predict, but when you’ve got a pitcher who is 34 years old, they become more likely.

The Pirates ended up getting 12 starts from Rodriguez in the second half of the 2012 season, with good numbers. That didn’t make much of a difference, since the team around Rodriguez collapsed. He had good numbers over 12 starts in 2013, which made a bigger impact, since the Pirates ended up going to the playoffs, in part due to that early season success. Rodriguez ended up being a rental over the course of two seasons, giving the Pirates two good months at the end of 2012, and two good months at the start of 2013.

Looking at where the Pirates are right now, they won’t miss the guys they gave up. That’s not to say the guys they gave up were bad. Robbie Grossman was the top prospect in the deal. At the time, there was a debate over whether he would end up an average starter in the majors, or a number four outfielder. So far he has a career .677 OPS in 343 plate appearances. He’s only 24 this year, so he could improve with age. But right now he’s looking more like the fourth outfielder.

Owens and Cain both dealt with injuries after the trade, and both missed a lot of time in 2013. Owens wasn’t doing well in Triple-A this year, prior to his call up. His ratios were good, but he was giving up too many hits. Cain has moved up to Double-A, where he has a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 innings as a piggyback starter going 3-4 innings per outing. Due to the injuries, Owens and Cain are probably looking at becoming back of the rotation starters, at best. It’s more likely that they end up in the current role that Owens has, where they serve as depth out of Triple-A.

Since 2012, a few players have emerged to make it so that the Pirates wouldn’t miss the above guys. The biggest emergence was Gregory Polanco, who was in the middle of his breakout year when Rodriguez was acquired. The outfield of the future for the Pirates will be Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Polanco. That future will start in a few weeks. There was really no room for Grossman in the long-term, and the Pirates gave his short-term spot to Travis Snider when they acquired Snider a few days after the Rodriguez trade.

From a pitching standpoint, the Pirates already had some options when Owens was traded. They had Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson in Triple-A, and both lefties locked down spots in the majors in 2013. They also had the current depth options emerging. Brandon Cumpton was in the middle of a season where he had a 3.84 ERA in 152.1 innings at the Double-A level. Casey Sadler had just made the move to the rotation in Bradenton a month before the trade, and was showing some promise.

I don’t think the Pirates are going to miss the guys they gave up for Rodriguez. They traded from a strength at the time, and those strengths are even stronger in 2014. This is a weird deal to look back on. The Pirates got some good production from Rodriguez, but it was limited to partial seasons, and only the two months in 2013 really made a difference. They didn’t give up anyone who they’ll regret losing. The Astros shed some payroll, and got some prospects during their rebuilding phase. They weren’t winning with Rodriguez, and would have ended up with nothing if he stayed around another year.

This wasn’t an earth shattering deal for either side. It’s not really a deal that anyone won or lost. I don’t think either side misses the guy(s) they gave up, but at the same time, I don’t think either side came away from this deal empty-handed.

Links and Notes

2014 Draft

**Third Mock Draft From Baseball America, Same as the First For Pirates

**New Mock Draft From Jim Callis Has Pirates Going For Toolsy Prep Outfielder

Pirates

**The Cumpton vs. Locke question is no debate

**Jason Grilli Activated From DL, Tony Sanchez Optioned to Indianapolis

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco Hits Sixth Homer; Reese McGuire Continues Streak

**Minor League Schedule: Dovydas Neverauskas Has Pitched Well in May

**Prospect Highlights: Willy Garcia’s Big Day, Home Run From Chris Dickerson

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • emjayinTN

    Rudy Owens had a few excellent years coming through the minors, and just when he was looking like an absolute lock to be in the Pirate Rotation, I think he had some arm problem and never returned to that point he had reached prior to the injury. Grossman was my pick to be the leadoff batter in the Pirate future based on his record setting numbers at Hi A in 2011 when he batted in the .290’s with 34 doubles, 13 HR’s, and also piled on 104 Walks. I thought the trade was a steal for the Pirates because they got one of the best LHSP’s in the NL for relatively unproven prospects and got Houston to donate $13 mil of his 2013 and 2014 salary’s. So the Pirates got about a year of decent starts when we really needed them for about $15 mil? It’s a push.

    • leowalter

      Scouts always predicted Owens would hit the wall at AAA…..and he did.

  • ElGaupo77

    For the newer prospects fans this shows you how hard they are to predict. Grossman’s high A season in Bradenton made you think he was a lock to be a starting OF in the bigs. He’s struggled mightily. Hard to predict prospects.

    • emjayinTN

      I agree it is difficult to project that move from AAA to MLB, but Grossman continued to do well in AA, AAA, and did fairly well in his debut last year by hitting .268 with a .332 OBP which is excellent for a Rookie in the majors. This year, not so much. His future with the Pirates was going to be limited, and the trade opened up an opportunity for him with Houston. As it turns out, Alex Presley was breaking out, Starling Marte was the Minor League Player of the year and they were both ahead of Robbie.

  • Scott Kliesen

    Wandy did what Pirates had hoped he would do when they acquired him until he got injured. None of the prospects the Astro’s acquired have met expectations. Pirates won this trade.

    • piratemike

      Are you not counting the millions paid out to Wandy? I’m not sure of the amount but it must be somewhere in the 16m + range.

      • Scott Kliesen

        The money allocated to Wandy did not prevent them from acquiring or keeping players. As such, it’s a non-factor in my assessment of the trade.

        • Lee Young

          agree.

          • piraddict

            I am not so sure about that. If Wandy wasn’t on the payroll the Pirates might have felt more freedom to dial up another couple of million to sign AJ (not that they should have done that anyway). I think the salary commitment to Wandy, with unknown expectations of performance was a bit of an anchor on the Pirates last winter. Wandy’s injury history with us, and the resulting dead salary, is exactly why the Pirates should never do a deal for an aging vet.

    • bucsws2014

      There are no certainties with trades or prospects. You simply have to take a best guess. In the case of Wandy, he was something the Bucs needed, a solid LH innings eater. It was a good idea. And IMO, the guy was a gamer and had some grit to him despite not the greatest stuff. I still remember him pitching in short sleeves when game time temps were around 40F.

      Anyway, I applauded Neal for making that move. With what the Astros chipped in, it was a below-market price for such a pitcher.

      Things don’t always work out as planned though. Imagine if the Bucs had the Brandon Moss that the A’s currently have. Would’ve changed the perception of the Bay deal. Speaking of which, when Craig Hansen developed his nerve disorder, it was speculated that that disease would pass in five years. It’s been five years. Anyone know what he’s doing these days?

  • sweetleb

    15 million for 4 mths of 3.66 era for the pirates, that’s kind of pricey, the money may have been better spent. I think there are 3 way’s to review a trade, players given up, money vs production and how much playing time a player has before you move on. {see travis snyder}.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

      You don’t make that trade, possibly you don’t get that home wildcard game last year. Maybe you miss the playoffs or end up having to go to Cincinnati for that game. $15 million is a small price to pay for our fans to get 3 playoff games at home last year after 20 long year.

      • lonleylibertarian

        And maybe they bring up Cole earlier or maybe they add Cumpton to the rotation – doing either or both of those means they might win the Division and get to set up their starting rotation to have the best arms available to face the Cards.

  • Red_Skully

    The Pirates lost the Wandy trade in the end. The $8-million payroll could have been redistributed to resigning Burnett.

    • leadoff

      Who wins or loses trades doesn’t matter much. Every team in baseball
      wins some and looses some, 8mil, not a big loss, the Yanks have a
      pitcher that can get his fastball up to 88mph right now and they owe him
      90mil and he isn’t even playing right now. We are not used to the
      Pirates paying for players that don’t play or produce because the
      Pirates have excellent front office people, they seldom get stuck with a
      guy with big bucs left on his contract. Wandy was well worth the risk,
      they have acutally lost about 5 mil with Wandy. Volquez was well worth
      the risk for 5 mil. Burnett was not worth 30mil and a two year contract. There is always somewhere that money could be better spent after the fact.

    • Scott Kliesen

      That’s pure speculation based on your own perspective. What NH said after AJ signed w Phillies was something to the effect of this organization is not willing to spend “X” % of team salary on one player. Tells me Pirates were only willing to go so high on Burnett irregardless of having Wandy on team or not.

    • Lee Young

      AJ? The guy who pitches a good game and then a bad one? (5 QS in 10 starts).

      THAT guy? His FIP is almost equal to another pitcher called Edinson who is $9 mil cheaper.

      AJ has given up 12 runs in his last 3 starts (16 IP). He had a good April (two 7 inn shutouts) which has skewed his ERA (but not the high FIP) and his poor outings have sorely tasked the Phillies’ bullpen. He has not pitched well since last July. His Aug and Sept were NOT good.

      Sorry…I’ll take 2013 AJ (even with the bad Aug/Sept), but not 2014 AJ. At least not at $14 mil.

  • lonleylibertarian

    We economists like to talk about something called opportunity cost. When considering this trade you need to factor in what might have been done with the three prospects if the Bucs did not trade them to Houston – could they have been used to pick up a 1st base prospect like Olt or even Adams. And the dollars spent on Wandy could have gone towards Abreu and/or AJ.

    Finally, I know hindsight is 20/20 and a lot of folks on this blog and elsewhere try and be positive and “look on the bright side of life”. But, I am sorry, this trade was AWFUL – The BMTIB should get a big F on this one.

    • Lee Young

      Wandy was our best pitcher during the 2012 collapse and up until his injury in 2013 was pitching quite well.

      No way to predict injury.

      Hardly an “F”. We gave up, at most, a 4th OFer and two AAA depth starters for 137 quality innings.

      I’ll do that everytime….I’ve seen more quality prospects given up for 4-8 weeks of pitching…it happens every summer.

      • lonleylibertarian

        WAY too much money for a 33 year old with declining stats – and lots of innings – prospects could have been better used on other needs – and if you would do this – spend $15m+ for a -0.2 WAR I am glad you are not in the FO

        PS – AJ was the best pitcher in August and September of 2012…

        • Lee Young

          Pitcher WAR is very inaccurate and unreliable.

          Burnett gave up 21 runs in 33 inning in Aug 2012 with only one QS. Sept – 19 runs (15 earned) in 40, 5 QS. Total, 36 in 73 IP, 6 QS.

          Wandy gave up 15 in 33 inning with THREE QS. Not great, but still our best. In Sept 15 in 35 ip, 5 QS. Total: 30 in 68 IP, 8 QS.

          Wandy wasn’t great, but he was our best if you go by ERA and QS.

    • Andrew

      Evaluate trades by information available at the time. Retrospective trade analysis can make for interesting discussion but as an analysis tool it is worthless.

      Tim wrote in 2012 that if Rodriquez pitched at 3.0 WAR level it was a fair trade, expecting a 3.0 WAR performance
      was likely optimistic given aging, ZIPs projected Rodriguez to be 2.7 WAR player in 2013. A fair assessment is it was slight overpayment, based on Tim’s valuations at the time.

      However, Tim ranked Grossman as a top 51-100 hitter which is very questionable, Grossman was 8th in the Pirates system, and he was not top 51-100 hitter. Marte was ranked 4th in the system and ranked 74th overall, Grossman value was likely less than Tim’s assessment. Given this information it is a long leap to awful.

  • bmcferren

    I think this trade was a stab at avoiding the free agent market. We had previously been turned down by Jackson and De La Rosa on substantial 4+ year offers. Wandy had time on his “clock” as did AJ to his predecessor. There is currently one particular hurler on the Tampa squad that has just as much time before free agency. Now would be a perfect time to make such a bold move for an Ace.