Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 8/4/12

After the Wandy Rodriguez trade was made, I wrote about how I wasn’t a fan of the deal. It wasn’t that I thought Rodriguez was a bad player. I think he can be a good pitcher for the Pirates down the stretch, and for the next few years. I didn’t like the deal for two reasons.

First, I didn’t like that the Pirates gave up Robbie Grossman to get Rodriguez. I can live with dealing Rudy Owens or Colton Cain away, but Grossman was putting up the same numbers in Double-A that he put up in Bradenton last year. The Pirates currently have one established outfielder in the majors, and Grossman looks like a guy who is a year away from getting a shot, in a best case scenario.

A bigger reason why I didn’t like the deal was that I felt Wandy Rodriguez was no longer the pitcher that people think of when they hear his name. He’s no longer the high strikeout left-hander who puts up nearly a strikeout an inning, with a decent walk rate. He’s lost about two strikeouts per nine innings the last few years, increased his ground ball ratio, and dropped a walk per nine innings. That’s still a very good pitcher, but one that’s easier to obtain.

I was thinking about that tonight. Rodriguez gave up three runs in seven innings, striking out four. It wasn’t a horrible start, but he had two really bad pitches that cost him — a hanging breaking ball to Chris Heisey, and a home run to Mat Latos. But that’s not why I was thinking about how a pitcher like the current version of Rodriguez is easier to obtain.

Down in Triple-A, Jeff Locke had a dominant start. He pitched 7.1 shutout innings, giving up three hits and two walks, while striking out ten. He did this against a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team that ranks third in the international league in OPS. And this isn’t new for Locke. On the season he has a 2.66 ERA in 125 innings, with a 113:38 K/BB ratio. He throws 88-92 MPH with his fastball, usually sitting toward the top of that range. He throws a big breaking curveball, and he’s added a ton of control to his pitches this year with a new turn to his delivery.

Locke is major league ready right now. He wouldn’t have cost any prospects. He would be making the league minimum next year, rather than taking up $8 M in payroll with the Pirates projected to spend $63 M before any off-season additions. And there’s a good chance that he can be just as good as Rodriguez is right now.

The knock against Locke is his lack of experience. You don’t know what you’re going to get, which isn’t a situation you want to put yourself in during a playoff race. But what’s the price of adding an established player? It seems that three prospects, $8 M in payroll in 2013, and a potential $7.5 M in 2014, is a lot to spend when you’ve got a guy in Triple-A who looks like he could be just as good.

The Pirates are expected to use a spot starter over the next 20 games, giving their rotation a break. Jeff Locke should be that spot starter. It would give them a chance to see what Locke can do in the majors. It’s too late to give him that shot this year and avoid adding Rodriguez. But giving him a spot start and a chance in the majors this year could add some comfort for next year, when the projected Opening Day rotation looks to be one man short, and could definitely use Locke in the mix.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Reds 3-0.

**Pirates Notebook: Game One Against Reds Ends in Emotion From McCutchen; Pirates Shuffle Rotation.

**Prospect Watch: A Good Night For Pitchers With Locke and Kingham Leading the Way.

**Locke Wins Pitching Duel, Strikes Out 10.

**Ryan Hafner Struggling With His Control This Year.

**Minor League Schedule: 8/4/12.

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