- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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OK, Pittsburgh Pirates fans were undoubtedly hoping for Justin Upton, but with the Arizona Diamondbacks' right fielder taken off the trade market, acquiring starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros could be a nice rotation upgrade.
The Pirates got Rodriguez and cash for three mid-level prospects: center fielder Robbie Grossman and left-handed pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain. Rodriguez is signed through 2013 at $13 million per season with a $13 million club option for 2014 that can become guaranteed based on performance (with a $2.5 million buyout). ESPN's Jayson Stark reports the Astros agreed to pay $12-13 million of that remaining total.
The Pirates currently rank seventh in the NL with a 3.91 rotation ERA. Rodriguez has a 3.79 ERA in 21 starts with Houston and presumably will take over Kevin Correia's spot in the rotation. While Correia has a 4.31 ERA, Rodriguez is a better bet moving forward, as indicated by an 89/32 strikeout/walk ratio compared to Correia's 46/28. Rodriguez also moves from a poor defensive team in Houston -- the Astros rank 29th in the majors in defensive runs saved -- to Pittsburgh, which ranks 16th.
Rodriguez does have a 5.54 ERA over his past 11 starts, although that includes a nine-run outing against the Cincinnati Reds on June 2. His stuff isn't overpowering (he averages 89 mph on his fastball), but he has always played up due to good deception in his delivery and good command of his curveball. The Pirates would love nothing more than to see Rodriguez get on a roll like he did in 2010, when he posted a 2.11 ERA in the second half.
For Houston, it's a trade similar to the one it made with Toronto: Adding more depth to the farm system. From quantity, the Astros hope they strike with quality. Grossman is a 22-year-old Double-A center fielder hitting .262/.374/.403. His best attribute is selectivity at the plate, but he may lack the range to remain in center and the power to profile as a corner guy, so may eventually settle in as a fourth outfielder. Cain ranked 13th and Owens 16th on Baseball America's preseason list of Pirates prospects. Owens has a 3.14 ERA in Triple-A but there isn't a lot of swing-and-miss to his game as he's averaging 6.5 strikeouts per nine. But he throws strikes and appears to be a guy the Astros can look at in their rotation the final two months. Cain is a projectable lefty in Class A, but he's a long ways from the majors.
It looks like a win-win deal to me. The Pirates gambled and lost a year ago with the likes of Correia and Jeff Karstens in the rotation. As much as they need another bat, they did need another starter, so they get a decent No. 3 or 4 without giving up a top prospect. For the Astros, you take a chance on three guys and hope one or two turn into regulars.
As evidenced by their one run scored over two losses to the Cubs this week, the Pirates will seek a bat. It's going to be tough to compete with the Reds and St. Louis Cardinals with Garrett Jones (.288 OBP) and Casey McGehee (.306 OBP) hitting in the fourth and fifth spots. They also have to be concerned about James McDonald, who has 16 runs in three starts since the All-Star break and has seen his ERA rise from 2.37 to 3.15. Rodriguez is the first move; will there be a second one?
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