Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 7/29/12

Some numbered thoughts heading into Tuesday’s MLB 4:00PM non-waiver trade deadline…

1-5:  Wandy Rodriguez

1.  I’ve been very critical of Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington over the past year, but I was impressed with last week’s SP Wandy Rodriguez trade with Houston.  While other clubs were still jockeying with the Cubs for Ryan Dempster, and waiting to see if the Phillies would extend Cole Hamels, Huntington swooped in and nabbed a very serviceable starter ahead of schedule.

2.  The timing of the trade could not have been better.  In 2011, the Pirates waited up until the deadline itself to finally acquire Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, possibly assuming teams would become most “desperate” to deal then.  But the problem is that selling teams know buyers are under the same time constraints.  I believe buyers have the most leverage when they still have time to explore other trade avenues, and so it’s no surprise that some of the biggest trades happen a week prior to the deadline itself.

Trading early affords buyers the most leverage, and provides them time to assess their additions before considering further trades.

3.  Rodriguez has been a remarkably consistent left-handed starter over the past 6 seasons, with ERA+ of 119 (2008), 136 (2009), 110 (2010), 109 (2011), and 105 (2012).  Remember, 100 is considered “average”, so the Pirates landed a consistently above-average left-handed starter, signed through 2013, and with Houston picking up a substantial portion of his remaining contract.

4.  The only two downsides on Wandy Rodriguez are his age (33), and declining strikeout rate.  His peak rate (8.6 stikeouts/9 innings) was way back in 2008, and has decreased every year since- with a significant drop from 7.8/9 to 6.2/9 this season.  This plummeting K/9 has yet to affect his other statistics, but it’s a cause for concern.

5.  Most Pirates’ fans were disappointed in Rodriguez’s debut against the Astros this past Friday.  On one hand, it would be difficult for a long-tenured SP to face his former team.  At the same time, the Astros have arguably the weakest lineup in all of baseball.  I was worried to see Rodriguez only hitting 87-88 with his fastball much of the night, and wonder if it may be contributing to his sinking strikeout totals.

6-8.  What the Pirates Gave Up

Grossman; Image credit mceffect

6.  Some fans were upset at Huntington’s decision to send OF Robbie Grossman (AA), SP Rudy Owens (AAA), and Colton Cain (High-A) to Houston in exchange for Rodriguez.  But the bottom line is that this is the trade deadline.  For a team to be able to acquire a quality upgrade without having to give up a single top-5 prospect from their system (Grossman was the highest of the three at #8) is a huge positive.

7.  Of the group, Grossman will be missed most.  A 6th-round pick in 2008, Grossman garnered national attention in 2011 after becoming the first minor leaguer since Nick Swisher to both walk and score 100 times in a season.  Grossman has struggled to adjust to AA Altoona this year, but has improved as of late, and remained one of the only Pirates’ hitters in the upper levels capable of consistently drawing walks.

8.  The Pirates’ only mistake with Owens wasn’t including him in this trade, but simply never granting him an opportunity at the MLB level prior to this.  After a very impressive 2010 that saw Owens go 12-6 with a 2.46 ERA at AA Altoona, Owens’ journey through the Pirates’ system stalled at AAA over the past two seasons.  Good luck to him in Houston!

9-10.  What’s Still Out There

9.  The Pirates still desperately need a bat, and preferrably one that can reach base at a high rate.  The team’s .299 on base % is 29th in all of baseball.  In fact, my friend Brett did some research showing that such a rate is unprecedented for a winning ballclub.  Since 1973, only 7 teams have had full seasons with team OBP’s under .300.

1976 Expos 55-107

2011 Mariners 67-95

1973 Padres 60-102

1989 Braves 63-97

2010 Mariners 61-101

1988 Braves 54-106

1985 Giants 62-100

Notice a trend here?  Now the 2012 Pirates are clearly defying it, but they absolutely need to bolster their lineup to stave off a late-season OBP-induced losing streak that drops them from contention.

10.  Two names that excite me the most heading into Tuesday are Cleveland Indians’ OF Shin-Soo Choo and San Francisco Giants’ 1B Brandon Belt.  Choo is signed through 2013, and aside from a 107 OPS+ in 2011, has posted OPS+ above 136 every year since 2008.  In short, he’s an incredibly consistent, productive lefty power bat made for PNC, and some believe the Indians are willing to deal him after recently falling off the pace in the AL Central.

We’ll respect you, Brandon; Image credit bleacherreport

I LOVE Brandon Belt, and am floored the Giants are even considering moving him!  Arguably one of the hottest prospects in baseball at the start of 2011, Belt rocketed through the Giants’ minor league system in only 2 years, compiling an insane 1.052 OPS along the way.  Despite 2 partial MLB years of OPSs in the low .700′s, Belt has posted OPS+s of 104 and 107.  In short, despite the low power, he’s still an above average hitter, even at age 24.

Giants’ GM Brian Sabean carries a strong veteran fetish at trade deadlines, particularly in the bullpen.  Were I Huntington, I would be on the phone offering RP Jason Grilli without hesitation, and wouldn’t balk at sweetening the pot if needed.  While I doubt they move him, I’m incredibly encouraged at the Pirates’ willingness to consider moving CL Joel Hanrahan in a huge trade.  Closers really are fairly replaceable, but I never thought the Pirates would have the guts to move Hanrahan in the middle of a pennant race.  We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.  If Huntington continues his improvement, the next 2 days should be pretty interesting for Pirates’ fans.

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