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July 25, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Not All Who Wandy Are Lost

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein


IN THIS ISSUE

National League

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquired OF-S Robbie Grossman, LHP Rudy Owens, and LHP Colton Cain from the Pirates for LHP Wandy Rodriguez and cash. [7/24]

Owens is the most big league ready of the trio, and will likely see time in Houston this year. The 24-year-old lefty had to overcome the stigma of being a 24th-round pick, but he's found success at every level and won over scouts as a potential back-of-the-rotation piece. He has no star potential, but there's no reason he can't be a successful strike-throwing battler. His fastball is average to a tick below, and he'll mix in an average curveball and decent changeup. But all of his stuff plays up due to outstanding control, as he ends the Pirate portion of his career with a career rate of 1.8 walks per nine innings.

An 8th-round pick in 2009 who received a seven-figure bonus, Cain is the upside play in the group, as his 4.20 ERA at High-A Bradenton, with 51 strikeouts in 75 innings, don't cover his potential. At 6-feet-3-inches, 225 pounds, he's a physical left-hander with good command of an average to slightly above fastball that sits at 88-92 mph, but he's far from a finished product. Scouts have noted an improved changeup from him this year, but his curveball still flattens out often and lacks bite. He's just 21 years old, and his future and his future role will come down to how his secondary pitches develop.

Grossman is an intriguing outfielder who received much attention from the statistical community when he hit .294/.418/.451 at High-A Bradenton while leading the minor leagues with 104 walks. That was enough to make him the no. 6 prospect in the system entering the year, but scouts had mixed reviews of him due to some questions about his power potential, and the ability to stay up the middle. At .262/.374/.403 in 94 Double-A games, it looks like he's regressed, but he's recovered from a slow start to hit .316/.439/.477 in 43 games since the calendar flipped to June. The 22-year-old has no star-level tools, but also no weaknesses, as he runs well, has a bit of pop, and obviously works the count exceedingly well. Strikeouts have been an issue for him throughout his career, but he has made minor improvements in that area. If he stays in center, he'll have tremendous value, but that's a big if, as he lacks the quickness for up-the-middle play and most see a future corner outfielder. —Kevin Goldstein

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Acquired LHP Wandy Rodriguez and cash from the Astros for OF-S Robbie Grossman, LHP Rudy Owens, and LHP Colton Cain. [7/24]

All month long, rumors had the Pirates seeking another starter. To list some of the pitchers named at various points: Jon Lester, James Shields, Paul Maholm, and Francisco Liriano. Rodriguez’s name seldom appeared, but in the end, he appears to be Pittsburgh’s man.

The Pirates’ acquisition of Rodriguez is surprising because of the money involved. Rodriguez is due $17 million over the next season and a half. This trade turns over control of a $13 million option for the 2014 season from the team to Rodriguez. Meaning, in short, Rodriguez will make $30 million between now and his contract’s expiration.  According to Rob Biertempfel, the Pirates will pay Rodriguez $17.7 million of that sum.

Money aside, Rodriguez is a good get for the Pirates. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Rodriguez has recorded a quality start in 66 percent of his attempts. Only A.J. Burnett can claim a better ratio on this year’s Pirates staff. With at least 60 more innings this season, Rodriguez will have his fourth consecutive 190-plus inning season. Long story made short: when Rodriguez takes the mound—and he typically does every five days—he usually gives his team a chance to win.

Rodriguez relies on wit rather than muscle to get outs. His fastball sits around 90 miles per hour and he relies heavily on a curveball and changeup to keep batters off his tail. The game plan is simple: get ahead, throw strikes, and keep the ball on the ground. It’s not a sexy package—and to be clear, it’s a package better suited for the middle of a rotation rather than the front of one—but there are a number of ways to get outs. Rodriguez’s methods are tried and true.

Which is more than you can say about Kevin Correia, whom Rodriguez will likely replace in the rotation. Correia is suffering from the indignity of allowing more earned runs per nine innings than strikeouts, thus telling you all that you need to know about his value. It is worth noting the reports earlier in the summer indicating the Pirates’ willingness to trade Correia. Whether any teams showed interest is unclear. But, if someone did, they should go ahead and give Neal Huntington another call.

The Pirates entered the day with playoff odds of more than 57 percent. Acquiring Rodriguez pushes them upward. Buying players in July, potentially playing meaningful games in October—welcome back to relevancy, Pittsburgh. —R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Wandy Rodriguez

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