Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 7/24/12

In yet another paradigm shift in this bizarro-world Pirate universe we now live in, the Pirates acquired Wandy Rodriguez on Tuesday night from the Astros for three Pirate prospects — Rudy Owens, Robbie Grossman, and Colton Cain.  In our recent mid-season update, we had those three ranked 7th, 9th, and 20th, respectively.

For Tim’s “First Pitch” piece tonight, he will be examining the trade from the Trade Surplus angle using the Prospect Trade Surplus Values we re-developed on the site here last month.  This article will take a look at what exactly we gave up.

At first glance, I’m guessing that the Houston Astros really wanted Texas-themed players, so let’s be thankful that Jameson Taillon wasn’t in the deal.  Both Cain and Grossman attended high school in Texas and were both University of Texas recruits snatched away by the Pirates.  Apparently Owens just likes barbeque and that was good enough for the Astros.

Rudy Owens (draft 2006) has had a resurgent season in 2012 after he never got on track in 2011.  This year in 19 starts over 117 innings, Owens had a 3.14 ERA/3.87 FIP.  His strikeouts were up (6.52/9 versus 5.69/9 in 2011) and his walks were down (1.92/9 versus 2.56/9 in 2012).  Owens had definitely put himself in the mix to be called up to the Pirates and inserted in the rotation, if need be.  And that was something you couldn’t say with certainty after his lackluster 2011.  For the Astros (moving to the AL West in 2013), I’m not sure how a flyball lefty (37.9% groundball rate) is going to do in the bandbox of a stadium that is Minute Maid Park, while pitching to the stacked lineups in that division of the Rangers and Angels.  For the Pirates, he would probably be a decent #4 or good #5, but in the AL West he’s probably going to max at a #5.

Robbie Grossman (draft 2008) really boosted his trade value after returning from his imposed 1 week suspension in June.  His season stats of .262/.374/.403 (777 OPS) belie how hot he has been in June/July with OPS’s of 956 in June and 902 in July.  He’s a walk machine and has greatly cut down his strikeouts over the years.  I was fairly impressed with Grossman on my recent visit to Akron to watch the Curve play the Aeros.  For a stat-minded GM like Jeff Luhnow, this was a very shrewd pickup.  I think Grossman will be a solid CF and provide a few 2-3 WAR seasons for the Astros.  It’s easy to put him in the Nate McLouth mold, especially since everyone is jaundiced by Nate’s horrible 2012 effort here, but Grossman is not going to “wow” people but will be solid.

I’ve been higher on Cain (draft 2009) than I probably should have been for years.  The early reports of him throwing mid-90′s from the left side were intriguing, but Cain as a starter could never replicate that.  He sits 88-91, typically, and has never had a good enough out pitch to get the strikeout ratios you want to see.  This year in 16 starts over 75 innings, Cain had a 4.20 ERA/4.85 FIP.  His strikeout rates have dropped each year in the system to his current 6.12/9 in 2012, while his walks were at 3.00/9 this year.  Interestingly, Cain has turned himself into more of a groundball pitcher as he has moved through the system, going from 30.0% GB to 45.9% GB from 2010 to 2012.  As much as I was holding out hope that Cain could be a #3 or #4 starter, I was starting to resign myself to the fact that he could just be a reliever.

The key to the whole trade will be finding out how much money the Astros are kicking in towards Wandy’s salary, because as of right now it appears the Pirates gave up too much for what they are getting back, if you factor in Rodriguez’s salaries through 2014.  Tim and I were estimating it over the phone and we were thinking the Pirates need 1/2 of Rodriguez’s salary commitment to come back in the deal in order to  make this break even.

 


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