On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Pirates designated Wandy Rodriguez for assignment. Coincidentally, one day later, Rudy Owens made his Major League debut for the Houston Astros. Owens didn’t fare well, giving up five runs on nine hits in 5.2 innings of work. But the end of Rodriguez’s tenure in Pittsburgh, and the debut of Owens give us a good chance to revisit the July 2012 trade.
The Pirates sent Owens, Robbie Grossman, and Colton Cain to Houston to get Wandy Rodriguez, who came with money being paid by the Astros. At the time of the deal, I didn’t like the trade. I had been a Wandy Rodriguez fan through his prime, but the stats showed that he was on a decline. He had been struggling with the Astros, putting up a 5.54 ERA in 63.1 innings in the two months leading up to the trade. His strikeout numbers saw an annual decline, dating back to 2008, and really dropping off in 2012.
What happened with Rodriguez after the trade was surprising, considering those trends. He had a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings with the Pirates at the end of the 2012 season. He returned in 2013, putting up a 3.59 ERA in 62.2 innings, before his injury. The strikeout rate took a bit of a jump in 2013, rising above the 2012 numbers, but still below the 2011 totals. His walks were down to a career best, and his 3.66 ERA in 137.2 innings looked good. But then the injury came, and that ended up being the downfall for his Pirates career. Injuries are impossible to predict, but when you’ve got a pitcher who is 34 years old, they become more likely.
The Pirates ended up getting 12 starts from Rodriguez in the second half of the 2012 season, with good numbers. That didn’t make much of a difference, since the team around Rodriguez collapsed. He had good numbers over 12 starts in 2013, which made a bigger impact, since the Pirates ended up going to the playoffs, in part due to that early season success. Rodriguez ended up being a rental over the course of two seasons, giving the Pirates two good months at the end of 2012, and two good months at the start of 2013.
Looking at where the Pirates are right now, they won’t miss the guys they gave up. That’s not to say the guys they gave up were bad. Robbie Grossman was the top prospect in the deal. At the time, there was a debate over whether he would end up an average starter in the majors, or a number four outfielder. So far he has a career .677 OPS in 343 plate appearances. He’s only 24 this year, so he could improve with age. But right now he’s looking more like the fourth outfielder.
Owens and Cain both dealt with injuries after the trade, and both missed a lot of time in 2013. Owens wasn’t doing well in Triple-A this year, prior to his call up. His ratios were good, but he was giving up too many hits. Cain has moved up to Double-A, where he has a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 innings as a piggyback starter going 3-4 innings per outing. Due to the injuries, Owens and Cain are probably looking at becoming back of the rotation starters, at best. It’s more likely that they end up in the current role that Owens has, where they serve as depth out of Triple-A.
Since 2012, a few players have emerged to make it so that the Pirates wouldn’t miss the above guys. The biggest emergence was Gregory Polanco, who was in the middle of his breakout year when Rodriguez was acquired. The outfield of the future for the Pirates will be Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Polanco. That future will start in a few weeks. There was really no room for Grossman in the long-term, and the Pirates gave his short-term spot to Travis Snider when they acquired Snider a few days after the Rodriguez trade.
From a pitching standpoint, the Pirates already had some options when Owens was traded. They had Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson in Triple-A, and both lefties locked down spots in the majors in 2013. They also had the current depth options emerging. Brandon Cumpton was in the middle of a season where he had a 3.84 ERA in 152.1 innings at the Double-A level. Casey Sadler had just made the move to the rotation in Bradenton a month before the trade, and was showing some promise.
I don’t think the Pirates are going to miss the guys they gave up for Rodriguez. They traded from a strength at the time, and those strengths are even stronger in 2014. This is a weird deal to look back on. The Pirates got some good production from Rodriguez, but it was limited to partial seasons, and only the two months in 2013 really made a difference. They didn’t give up anyone who they’ll regret losing. The Astros shed some payroll, and got some prospects during their rebuilding phase. They weren’t winning with Rodriguez, and would have ended up with nothing if he stayed around another year.
This wasn’t an earth shattering deal for either side. It’s not really a deal that anyone won or lost. I don’t think either side misses the guy(s) they gave up, but at the same time, I don’t think either side came away from this deal empty-handed.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.