In one of the more bold statements the organization has made in decades, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired left-hander Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros, in exchange for a trio of solid mid-level prospects. Heading to Houston are left-handers Colton Cain and Rudy Owens as well as outfielder Robbie Grossman.
Prior to Wednesday’s afternoon matchup against the Cubs, Pittsburgh trails the first place Reds by just 2.5 games and remains in a virtual tie with Atlanta for the top Wild Card spot.
It’s a bit interesting – and perhaps a little questionable – as to why the Pirates would look to add to an area of strength (the rotation), instead of upgrading any number of holes on offense. The rotation has both talent at the top – James McDonald and A.J. Burnett – and depth at the bottom, with Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia, and Jeff Karstens rounding out the three, four, and five spots. Correia is the weakest link right now, but I have a feeling Karstens, who’s sporting a 3.41 ERA since 2011 but has made only eight starts this year, will be the one getting replaced.
Rodriguez has been remarkably consistent over the past five years, posting ERAs between 3.02 and 3.79. His strikeout rate has declined for the fourth consecutive year, down to 6.13 K/9 but has compensated this season by posting career bests in walks, 2.20 BB/9, and groundballs, 50.7%. He’s reliable and steady but expensive and replaceable. And, frankly, no matter whom the Pirates bump from the rotation, either Karstens or Correia, the difference in production in terms of wins above replacement should be minimal, at best.
The Astros, on the other hand, continue to build depth in one of the weaker systems in baseball, adding a potential everyday outfielder in Grossman, an MLB-ready, finesse lefty (Owens), and another lefty (Cain) that ranks somewhere in between.
Grossman, one of the better hitting prospects in the Pittsburgh pipeline, has a chance to develop into a solid everyday player, if he can remain in center field. His power’s a bit stretched in the corners, but could potentially develop into a 15 or so homerun threat with as many stolen bases, though his technique will have to improve. His lone plus-tool, plate discipline (14.3% career walk rate), should be enough to at least guarantee him a bench spot on some team.
Owens, 24, has probably reached his peak, a finesse-type lefty bound for the backend of a team’s rotation. He’s not the type to build around – and likely won’t be around where the Astros are set to contend again – but he’s capable of putting 150 or so innings with a high 4’s ERA and won’t hurt his efforts with too many walks. He’s probably worth about one win above replacement.
Cain, 21, is a decent middle-tier prospect, armed with an above-average fastball and, unsurprisingly, some inconsistent secondary offerings. He’s shown some decent command for his age, but has been hampered by the long-ball this year (1.20 HR/9). His ultimate ceiling is a fourth starter, maybe.
Houston’s likely to come out as the winner in this one, though it’s far from a certainty. At the very worst, they moved a decent amount of money from their payroll.
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