Wandy Rodriguez Traded to the Pirates: Why This Trade Makes the Bucs Favorites
While Neal Huntington managed to acquire Rodriguez (who will likely remain under contract through 2014) without giving up any high-end prospects, the Pirates still played a steep price for the pitcher. Indeed, the Bucs shipped three of their top 25 prospects to Houston.
Yet a player like Rodriguez, a quality option at a position where the Pirates are currently thin, is worth the price. This trade may be the first step that leads to the Pirates' return to the playoffs.
There are many reasons to believe that the Rodriguez trade is a game-changer in the Steel City.
Rodriguez Has a Track Record of Production
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In four of the last five seasons (including 2012), Rodriguez has posted a FIP of between 3.50 and 3.78. In his one "outlier" season, his FIP rose slightly to 4.15. His 3.79 ERA in 2012 is actually the highest ERA he has posted over the past five seasons.
This consistent performance helps mitigate the greatest concern about acquiring Rodriguez, which is the drop in his strikeout rate this season. As he was never a pitcher who relied on velocity, there is some reason to believe this reduced strikeout rate is just a blip from a pitcher who has historically been strong in this category (that said, it is certainly a statistic that bears watching).
Rodriguez immediately becomes the most consistent pitcher in the Pirates' rotation. This is a valuable commodity to add for a playoff run.
Rodriguez's Stats Should Improve in Pittsburgh
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Not only has Rodriguez posted impressive stat lines for five years running, he has posted these lines while pitching in a park that is extremely unfriendly to left-handed pitchers.
The move from Minute Maid Park—which is extremely hitter-friendly—to PNC Park—which is particularly friendly to left-handed pitchers—should provide a substantial improvement in Rodriguez's performance. Similarly, while it would be nice to see his strikeout rate return to pre-2012 levels, Rodriguez is generating more ground balls this season and will benefit from the Pirates' standout infield defense.
Acquiring Rodriguez was worthwhile based on his current numbers alone, but the move looks even better when factoring in the likelihood that he will significantly improve just by moving from Houston to Pittsburgh.
Rodriguez Bumps Kevin Correia from the Rotation
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Might as well be blunt about this one, as I have been publicly arguing for Correia's removal from the starting rotation for a while.
While nothing has been formally announced, it seems likely that it will be Correia who Rodriguez replaces in the rotation, with the only other candidate being Erik Bedard. Timing is perfect for the Pirates, who will skirt Correia's expected late-season regression as his ERA remains more than 0.60 runs less than his FIP.
One of the great after-effects of this trade is that the Pirates will no longer have any weak links in their starting rotation. This is a very good quality for a team in the heat of a pennant race.
Rodriguez Gives the Pirates Much-Needed Pitching Depth
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While Correia was due to be replaced in the starting rotation, there are worse sixth starters to have. Given the Pirates' reluctance to turn to Jeff Locke or Rudy Owens (Owens is part of the prospect package going to the Astros) to become the No. 6 man in the rotation, it seems Correia will now fill that role.
With Locke, who I prefer to Owens, is still available in Triple-A, the Pirates now have legitimate starting pitching depth. Depth may be crucial for a team that employs both Erik Bedard and Jeff Karstens.
While the Pirates did give up Owens, his inclusion in the trade and lack of a call-up thus far would imply that they do not value him too highly. In Correia and Locke, this team has substantial injury insurance.
The Pirates Likely Aren't Finished Making Moves
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One of the hidden encouraging signs from the Rodriguez acquisition is that the Pirates are only paying $1.7 million of Rodriguez's 2012 salary. This means that the Bucs should still have plenty of money to support another trade deadline acquisition.
The next likely target is a corner outfielder. The Pirates have been particularly weak at the position this year, so acquiring a useful bat would do wonders for their offense. The Bucs have been linked to virtually every name in the market, but Shane Victorino is an option that has come up often as of late.
Acquiring Rodriguez was a great first step for the Pirates, and adding a corner outfielder would help to further solidify this team as it chases the N.L. Central crown.