Found July 25, 2012 on Pirates Prospects:

I thought a lot about Wandy Rodriguez tonight. I really didn’t have any other choice.

I was driving down to Florida today, which is a 13 hour trip from Virginia. The main purpose of that trip is helping my parents move to Orlando tomorrow. The second part of the trip will be heading over to Bradenton to cover the GCL and the Bradenton Marauders on Thursday and Friday. One of the things I was looking forward to was talking with Colton Cain about his recent success after starting off the year with some rough numbers. Guess that’s out of the question now.

I had just crossed the Florida state line when I checked my phone and saw the messages about a Wandy Rodriguez trade. Anyone who has ever driven to Florida knows that the most frustrating thing about driving to Florida is that once you’ve crossed the state line, you still have three to five hours until you get to where you’re going. Unless you’re going to Jacksonville, but who goes there? So I had three more hours to think about the trade (with help from Kristy Robinson and Kevin Creagh, who filled me in on the details).

My initial reaction was that the Pirates were losing three players in the top 20, which was a lot in prospects, although none of them in the top six, which was good to see. If you’ve read me at all in the last month, you know I’m not high on giving up players in the top six (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Starling Marte, Alen Hanson, Luis Heredia, Josh Bell). Wandy Rodriguez is a pitcher I’ve liked for a while, and he’s also a guy I’ve looked at to see what he might cost the Pirates. It was to the point that I didn’t need anyone to tell me that he was under team control in 2013, and a trade made his deal a player option in 2014.

However, there’s one thing I always do with Wandy Rodriguez: assume he’s younger than he actually is. I was thinking Rodriguez was 30-31, when in fact he is 33. That means he’ll be 34 next year, and making $13 M ($8.5 M paid by the Pirates), and 35 in 2014, when he has a player option for $13 M ($7.5 M paid by the Pirates).

You might point out that A.J. Burnett is 35 this year, and is having a lot of success. But there’s a difference between a power right-hander who never saw a drop in his dominance (referring to his K/BB numbers, not his overall numbers, which were the opposite of dominant), and a left-hander who averages 89.1 MPH on his fastball. Kevin mentioned to me that soft tossing left-handers tend to decline quicker than power-right handers, and I’d have to agree.

In the last three years, we’ve seen this alarming trend:

2010: 8.2 K/9

2011: 7.8 K/9

2012: 6.1 K/9

Rodriguez’s strikeout rate has dropped each year for the last three seasons. Considering his age, the steady drop is a concern. He could still be a good pitcher, and pitching in PNC Park should be a favorable situation. But let’s look at the secondary numbers for Rodriguez this year, and compare him to another left-hander.

Rodriguez: 6.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.7% GB ratio

Other Left-Hander: 5.9 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.0% GB ratio

So who is that other left-hander? None other than Paul Maholm, who is three years younger than Rodriguez, and is owed much less (Maholm makes $4.25 M this year, and has a $6.5 M option next year).

The appeal for Rodriguez is probably his former numbers. In 2010 he looked like a top of the rotation starter. In 2012 he looks like a more expensive, older version of Paul Maholm. Considering his age, and the three year decline in his numbers, I’m not so sure that a return to those 2010 numbers is a guarantee.

As for his trade value, I put him at a 3.0 WAR to keep things simple. He’s on pace for about a 2.7 WAR this year, although a 3.0 is closer to his average over the last few years. If we assume his option is picked up, that gives him a trade value of $7.2 M, without factoring in the exchange of money. Houston will pick up about $12.23 M in the deal, which gives the Pirates $19.43 M in trade value for Rodriguez. This all assumes that he pitches like a 3.0 WAR pitcher through the duration of the deal, and that his player option is exercised in 2014. Without the player option, the trade value for Rodriguez is $9 M (assuming the Pirates pick up the buyout…if Houston picks up the buyout, the trade value is $14 M).

To keep things simple, we’ll go with the $19.43 M trade value for Rodriguez, assuming the 3.0 WAR each year and the player option being exercised.

As for the prospects the Pirates gave up, we can get their dollar values from Kevin Creagh’s prospect trade values. I’d put Robbie Grossman as a top 51-100 hitting prospect, which would give him a value of $10.43 M.

I’d put Rudy Owens as a Grade B pitching prospect, and Colton Cain as a Grade C pitching prospect. That would put Owens at $7.3 M in value and Cain at $2.1 M in value.

The total value for all three prospects is $19.83 M. So the returns match up very well, assuming Rodriguez can put up a 3.0 WAR consistently, and assuming he agrees to the option year. Otherwise, the Pirates over-paid.

Even though I had three boring hours to think about the trade, I didn’t really come to a conclusion until I got about mid-way through writing this. It was right around the Paul Maholm comparison that I decided I didn’t like the deal. Rodriguez is a good pitcher who is reliable and fits well with PNC Park. He will definitely help the Pirates this year. I just think the Pirates over-paid for him.

I think Rodriguez looks similar to a pitcher like Paul Maholm this year, and I think his age and his steady downward trend could point to those numbers being legit for the long term. You deal this type of package to get Wandy Rodriguez from 2010. You don’t deal this type of package to get a player who looks like he could be on the decline. The Pirates could have received similar production from…well, Paul Maholm, and for a lot less in prospects and money.

Or, they could have called up one of their three left-handers in Indianapolis. I think one of those guys could put up Paul Maholm numbers, and you wouldn’t have to deal Robbie Grossman or Colton Cain in the process. And those aren’t just throwaway guys. Grossman has been back to his 2011 form in the last two months, and could have been in the majors as a third outfielder at this time next season. Right now I only count one established long-term outfielder in Pittsburgh, and that’s Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte could get there, but that still leaves one spot.

Cain has the potential to be a 200 inning a year workhorse left-hander. He struggled to start the year, went down with a groin injury, had two rough starts in his return, and has been great ever since. He’s in high-A, and his success this year is limited to half a dozen starts, so obviously he’s more of a wild card than the other two, who are closer to the majors and more of a safer bet.

Rodriguez won’t hurt the Pirates, and should help them this year. But I feel the Pirates could have gotten similar help for much less in prospects and money, especially if Rodriguez doesn’t go back to being more like the 2010 version. And for a small market team with not a lot to spend, and a reliance on prospects, you can’t afford to make an over-payment in one of those categories, much less both.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 5-1 to the Cubs.

**Pirates Notebook: Breaking Down the Wandy Rodriguez Trade.

**Pirates Acquire Wandy Rodriguez from Astros.

**The Departed – Grossman, Owens, Cain.

**Prospect Watch: Solid Starts From Kingham, Wilson and Heredia.

**Wilson And Relievers Make Indians’ 3 Early Runs Hold Up.

**Jose Tabata Struggling in Triple-A Since Demotion.

**Pirates Considering Spot Starters in the Month of August.

**The Future Payroll Page.

**The updated 40-man roster/payroll with Rodriguez.

**Minor League Schedule: 7/25/12.


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