A little over four years ago I was driving up to Williamsport, PA on September 3rd, 2010. The minor league season was wrapping up, and I was finishing my second season running this site, and the first season where it was more of an overall look of the organization, rather than a close look at the Lynchburg Hillcats (who moved away to Bradenton that year) and a not-so-close look at every other level. I had this crazy idea to write a book detailing every single minor league prospect in the system. Unemployed at the time, I figured I could try to sell the book on the site, and possibly make the site a full-time job (fortunately, it worked out, and the fifth edition of that book will be finished at the end of this week). But to do that, I needed to actually see the prospects in action.
With the little bit of money I made from the site that year, I set up a trip to cover as many levels of the system as I could over the final two weeks of the season. Altoona in Richmond, Bowie, and at home. State College. West Virginia. I called every friend and family member I knew in every city I would be in, hoping for a couch to sleep on. I drove everywhere, ending up with over 2700 miles in two weeks. Mid-way through the trip, I decided to call an audible, scheduling a trip up to Williamsport, PA so that I could see Zack Dodson pitch for the first time.
The highlight of that trip was a left-handed pitcher, but it wasn’t Dodson. Instead, it was the guy who came in to pitch three innings after Dodson — Joely Rodriguez. I hadn’t heard the name before. That was when the site was still starting out. I didn’t know who every single player in the system was at that time. I wasn’t expecting much. I definitely wasn’t expecting him to come on and hit 94 MPH with good movement on his fastball. I talked to a scout the next day, and found that he was also doing that in his time in the GCL.
Dodson was going to be in the top 50 prospects section of the Prospect Guide, and I was only there to get information for that report. But that visit put Rodriguez in the top 50 (at number 39). It was a guy I had never heard of one minute, and thought he had a shot at a Major League career three innings later. Pretty much, it was my first experience “scouting” and finding someone off the radar.
The Pirates dealt Rodriguez today for Antonio Bastardo. In doing so, they probably increased his chances of making the majors. In writing this year’s Prospect Guide, I have been projecting out the future depth charts for the 2015 season (and I’ll probably have articles on those in January, when things become a little more clear). Here are the current starting options for Triple-A and Double-A, minus Rodriguez.
Indianapolis: Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Adrian Sampson, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Clayton Richard
Altoona: Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, Jason Creasy, John Kuchno, Angel Sanchez, Orlando Castro, Tom Harlan, Zack Dodson
Obviously there are more starters than spots at each level. I’m not sure Rodriguez would have been an option to move up to Indianapolis, due to his struggles in Altoona. I don’t think the strong winter league and AFL performances would have changed that. I don’t even know if he would have been a lock to start in Triple-A. We had him ranked 33rd in the upcoming top 50, which would rank fourth on the Altoona list. But the Pirates don’t necessarily have the same rankings.
Even if Rodriguez was a starter at the beginning of the year, he probably wasn’t going to remain a starter for long. It would have been hard to make the jump to Triple-A and win a rotation spot. It also would have been difficult to win a spot in the majors with a future projected rotation that could eventually include Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and now Francisco Liriano for three more years. His future with the Pirates looked to be a reliever, and even that route is a bit more difficult.
I don’t know the Phillies farm system, but I have to think he’ll have a better opportunity there, possibly getting a shot to make it as a starter in their system. I also think this move will increase his chances of reaching the majors, which is something I hope happens with Rodriguez.
As you know, I don’t like paying for relievers. The Pirates filled a need today by adding Antonio Bastardo as their second left-handed reliever, and to do so they dealt Rodriguez and commit an estimated $2.8 M in payroll. The payroll doesn’t matter much, since that’s not an overly ridiculous price compared to the free agent market. Pat Neshek got $12.5 M over two years, and he has had one season where he’s been more than a replacement-level player since Neal Huntington joined the Pirates. Bastardo has been consistent. He’s not the best reliever, but he is a solid lefty middle reliever, and that’s something the Pirates missed for most of last year.
So what about the other form of payment, the prospect? I don’t like the idea of dealing prospects for relievers, especially a one-year rental. But if the prospect is projected to only be a reliever in your system, then you’re basically trading a guy who might have a Major League career for a guy who is already a solid Major League pitcher. I don’t think that falls in the same category as some of the other deals that are made for relievers where top 100 prospects are dealt, or guys who could play more significant roles in the majors.
A few years from now, the perception of this deal could change. Rodriguez could be pitching in the majors with the Phillies, maybe as a starter. Bastardo working out with the Pirates isn’t a guarantee. Jeff Locke could become a dominant reliever, and we could look back and wonder if they needed to make a deal at all. Or maybe everything works out as planned for all parties, with the Pirates getting the reliever they need, and the Phillies getting a good prospect for their re-build.
As it stands right now, the Pirates had a need for a lefty reliever, and the free agent market was insane. One possible alternative was trading Travis Snider, potentially on the verge of a breakout, for two years of Brian Matusz, who isn’t any better than Bastardo. Considering the alternatives, dealing a potential reliever (in their system) for a player you need who doesn’t cost nearly as much as he would on the open market, is a good deal to make. The Pirates traded from a position of strength and excess — upper level starting pitching prospects who probably won’t crack the MLB rotation with the Pirates — for a short-term need.
It’s hard to find fault with that approach and with this trade. You hope it works out for the Pirates, and Bastardo helps them fix their bullpen issues from the year before. As for Rodriguez, I hope this gives him a better shot at the majors, just because that has been something I’ve been pulling for an expecting for the last five seasons, ever since that night in Williamsport.
Links and Notes
**I finished the 2015 Prospect Guide today. Well, at least until tomorrow, when I’ll have to make a bunch of changes after the Rule 5 draft. Also, the Pirates will be completing the Sean Rodriguez trade following that draft. Those will be the final transactions going into the book, after which I will be sending the book to the publisher. You can pre-order your copy here.
**AFL Names Joely Rodriguez to 2014 Prospect Team. Right before he was traded.
**Pirates Have Reportedly Discussed Shopping Travis Snider For Brian Matusz. I’m guessing this deal is dead, and the rumors didn’t give it much of a chance. But in this link I talk about how good Travis Snider was in the second half last year.