The Bucs lost 5-1 tonight to the Cubs, as they were dominated by former Buc Paul Maholm, but the big news is the Pirates' trade of Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens and Colton Cain to the Astros for Wandy Rodriguez, in a bold move for Neal Huntington. While there's certainly a chance of it biting the Pirates later on, my initial impulse is to like this deal -- I like it from an analytical perspective, and I like it as a fan.
The Pirates aren't really giving up much here, and I think they probably believe, with some justification, that they're giving up even less than they appear to be on paper. Owens and Cain don't profile as anything more than back-of-the-rotation guys -- Owens at least has a good chance of reaching that modest goal, and Cain doesn't even have that. And this doesn't impact Owens' value to the Pirates' organization, but as a left-handed flyball pitcher who will have to pitch in the Astros' park against good A.L. lineups, his career prospects actually just got dimmer.
Grossman is the only player in this deal I feel uneasy about trading, but I've been skeptical about him in the past. Even now that he had a breakout season in Bradenton last year, his shining skill is his plate discipline. For a prospect, I'd rather plate discipline be merely an appetizer for a player to bring to the table, rather than the main course, because players with great walks totals in the minors but not much else tend to struggle against pitchers who know what they're doing.
Of course, that's not all there is to Grossman -- he had 49 extra-base hits last year and has 31 this year. But he has only one minor-league season with a batting average above .266, and only one with a slugging percentage over .403. (It is, however, fair to note that Grossman has a slugging percentage of .403 this year and had hand surgery over the offseason. He's come on strong over the past couple months, maybe in part because his hand is stronger.) I like Grossman, but I'm still somewhat skeptical of his ability to hit in the majors, and the fact that he's probably going to be a corner outfielder doesn't give him a ton of margin for error. There's also the matter of his mysterious suspension earlier this year, which the Pirates know a lot about and we know nothing about -- that may have colored the Bucs' opinion of him as well.
Essentially, then, if the Pirates traded a good player who's under contract for a couple more years and got these three players, I wouldn't be happy. A good outcome for Houston might go something like this: Grossman has Nate McLouth's career, and Owens or Cain helps out for a few years as a fourth starter. As a Pirates fan, I can live with that. (It would be embarrassing if Owens showed up in the Astros' rotation this season and pitched well, but I don't think that's all that likely, so it's a risk I'm willing to take.) This is also probably a case where the Pirates have a handle on how good these prospects are, and they're willing to part with them for good reasons. Scouts aren't exactly giddy about any of these players.
The Pirates, meanwhile, get a pitcher in Wandy Rodriguez who can help their rotation dramatically. Rodriguez has been pretty good going all the way back to 2006, and at age 33, he probably has another couple good years left in him, especially now that he's moving from a ballpark in Houston that's terrible for a lefty starter to one in Pittsburgh that's great.
Rodriguez' strikeout rate is down a bit this year, which is a concern. His fastball velocity is about the same as it was last year (he averages around 89 MPH), so my guess was that his curve wasn't as effective this year. I watched some video of him pitching in 2012 and then compared it to 2011, and it looks like his curveball is still a pretty filthy pitch, but while he's throwing it a little harder now than he did in 2011, it doesn't have quite as much break. That's worth watching going forward, but in the meantime, Rodriguez is still getting the job done, in part because he's walking fewer batters than at any point in his career.
The Pirates will pay Rodriguez $1.7 million this year, $8.5 million next year and $7.5 million in 2014. (Rodriguez has a player option for 2014 that he'll likely exercise.) That's not nothing, but that's a very reasonable price to pay for a solid mid-rotation starter over that period. The 2014 money, in particular, looks a bit risky, but I'm willing to deal with that, given Rodriguez's chances of helping this year and next.
For the stretch run, the Pirates' rotation now looks a lot stronger than it did. My guess is that Kevin Correia will be bumped from the rotation, and I'm sure you can guess how I feel about that, but assuming Correia stays in the organization, I like him much better as depth at this point than as an actual member of the rotation, particularly given the chance he would have fallen apart down the stretch anyway.
Also, the Pirates have solidified their rotation for next season. David and I have talked on the podcast about how there was uncertainty regarding next year's rotation, with Correia and Erik Bedard leaving and Charlie Morton probably gone as well. The Bucs will now have another good starter to add to James McDonald, A.J. Burnett and Jeff Karstens. They'll probably still have to go hunting for starting pitching in the offseason, but this move reduces the urgency in that regard, and probably helps them leave Brad Lincoln in the bullpen unless something changes dramatically.
Finally (and this is the "I like it as a fan" part), Bob Nutting continues to show that he's willing to add payroll to improve the team. We saw it last season with Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, we saw it in the offseason with A.J. Burnett, and we're seeing it here. The fact that the Pirates are paying so little to Rodriguez in 2012, with the big payouts coming in 2013 and 2014, may give them additional flexibility to add more talent this week, should they choose to.
By the way, there are a bunch of photos in our database (one of which I posted above) of Rodriguez finding out he's been traded. They're great -- he's smiling ear-to-ear in all of them. Welcome to Pittsburgh, Wandy.