(July 24: Dandy Wandy) First of all, the ability to trade players is one of the reasons sports are awesome. I’m kind of surprised that no one has ever mounted a successful Supreme Court challenge to the concept of transferring human beings across the country to a new workplace (sometimes with, but more often) without their consent. Think of it in layman’s terms:
That’d be pretty cool, unless you were the guy traded to Starbucks headquarters in Seattle for a crate of ballpoint pens. Although we’ve played great baseball after the break, it’s clear that we’re going to need some new blood if we want to hang with the Reds down the stretch. Two months ago, the Bucs needed to pick up a bat like Lazarus needed that pick‐me‐ up from Christ. Now, with the offense outpacing that of the Yankees, a starting pitcher might be the first priority. Jeff Karstens has been good since his return from injury, but Bedard continues to flounder and Correia is basically a ticking time bomb. Soon enough, either Bedard will be sidelined with a strained right kidney or
Correia’s ERA will jump into the 6.00 range (or both), so it would be prudent for Neal Huntington to go out and get a reliable starter. The big names in the starting pitcher market are Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke, neither of whom are realistic options for the Pirates. In the second tier is the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster, the owner of MLB’s best ERA this season. Dempster isn’t a marquee name like Hamels or Greinke, but he’s a five‐and‐ten guy (five years with current team, ten years total in the league) and therefore has the right to veto any trade he doesn’t like. Reports have linked him to a deal with Atlanta, but he’s stalling on that and it looks like he might ultimately reject it. If he’s reluctant to join the Braves, I can’t imagine he’d okay a trade to the upstart Pirates. His loss. Last night, word broke out that the Pirates might be interested in Astros’ rotation stalwart Wandy Rodriguez.
(I’m in the Olympic spirit now. U‐S‐A.)
Rodriguez has been the personification of reliability over the past few years,
which is exactly what the Pirates need at this moment. Pitching in the anonymity of Houston, he’s put up an ERA between 3.00 and 3.60 in each of the last four seasons. If I had to describe Wandy Rodriguez in one word, it’d be “solid.” That’s certainly a
compliment. He’s under contract through 2014, which means he’d be both a short and long term addition—but also means it will take more than a throwaway prospect to acquire him. As long as the price isn’t too high, I’d jump on it.
Midway through a depressing 5‐1 home loss to the Cubs (the Cubs, really?),
the Wandy speculation turns into reality.
Well, this is more exciting than watching J‐Mac sputter against a 39‐56 team.
Assuming the news is true, the only remaining question is what the Pirates will be giving up. There are five prospects in the Pittsburgh system that I consider “off‐ limits” unless we’re talking about a major pickup: Gerrit Cole (RHP/21 years old/2011 #1 overall pick), Jameson Taillon (RHP/20/2010 #2 overall pick), Josh Bell (OF/19/2011 2nd round pick with upper‐half of 1st round talent), Starling Marte (OF/23/2011 Double‐A batting average leader), and Luis Heredia (RHP/17/Mexican wunderkind with huge ceiling). None of that quintet would be in the conversation for Wandy.1 But anything below them I’d be okay with. 1 It’s becoming clear to me that “Wandy” is one of those names that lends itself to being the person’s main title. You say, “Wandy” and people know immediately who you’re talking about. Like Oprah. Hearing, “Rodriguez is pitching tonight,” is like hearing, “Winfrey’s show is on at 3.”
45 minutes later, it’s official.
Nice! Let’s see the early reviews. (BucsDugout.com contributor)
(Baseball America writer)
I’m right with them.
Grossman was the principal ransom for the Astros in this exchange. He had a great year in high‐A ball last year, walking over 100 times and putting up a stellar .418 OBP. It’s hard to envision him as a regular big league corner outfielder, though, due to his lack of pop. I could see him developing into a bench bat/platoon player sort of guy, which is useful but not anything to fret over losing. Owens was a low‐ minors star, but struggled mightily once he got to Triple‐A. He likely doesn’t have major league value going forward. Cain is something of a question mark; a high
school bonus baby, he’s posted middling results in rookie and low‐A ball. The chances he grows into an MLB starter aren’t great. All told, what we’re giving up is probably not worth 2+ seasons of Wandy. After years of toiling for hopeless Astros clubs, I’m sure Wandy’s thrilled to join a contender for the stretch run!
Oh. Well, uh, that just reflects the kind of commitment and dedication you’re looking for in a new addition! (?) Just joshin’. I had the same reaction when I found out my cable package at school didn’t include MLB Network.
There are also a few hidden sweeteners in the deal. For one, the Pirates add
a veteran pitcher without restraining their undersized checkbook as much as you’d think such a move might.
The Astros are moving to the American League West in 2013. They are already the worst team in baseball by a truly laughable margin. Given the step up in competition, they will likely lose between 100 and 105 games in each of the next two years. And in the midst of one of those 14‐3 drubbings at the hands of the Rangers, general manager Jeff Luhnow will think to himself, “We have paid Wandy Rodriguez thousands of dollars during this game alone, and he cannot help us stop the bleeding because he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates.” Such is the price of baseball sometimes. The Pirates are doing well to exploit this.
Also, should Wandy continue pitching in the general manner he’s pitched this
season, his results will improve by virtue of change in workplace alone.
Great work by Jon. He posted a graphic documenting the landing spots of all HRs Wandy has allowed at home in 2012, imposed on a map of PNC Park. It’s pretty easy to see that nearly all home runs he’s allowed to left field become outs—or, at worst, doubles—if they’re hit in Pittsburgh. Anyone who’s ever watched a game in Houston knows the left field “Crawford Boxes2” are the definition of a “short porch” and turn many long flyballs into cheap homers. What you might not realize is just how big of an impact that can have on a pitcher’s results if he pitches half his games there. In 2011, Wandy Rodriguez and Mike Pelfrey had nearly identical batted ball profiles: when contact was made, Rodriguez induced 20.0% line drives, 45.2% groundballs, and 34.8% flyballs compared to Pelfrey’s 19.6%, 45.6%, and 34.7% marks in the same categories. It’s not a stretch to say that the difference in their home run per flyball rate (HR/FB)—13.0% for Wandy, 9.1% for Pelfrey—probably had something to do with the fact that one of them pitched their home contests in
2 Named as such because they run parallel to Crawford Street in downtown Houston, thank you Wikipedia.
front of the Crawford Boxes while the other started 15 games in the spacious dimensions of New York’s Citi Field. Science rules.3
I’m not saying I have no reservations. We’re talking about a 33‐year old
pitcher who probably won’t be improving with age (unless he goes the Barry Bonds route, which is illegal both by baseball rules and federal law) and is already showing some mild signs of decline.
Wandy has traditionally been a high strikeout guy, but his K/9 has been falling incrementally since 2008 and currently sits at 6.13. Hitters are making more contact on his pitches both in and out of the strike zone, which indicates that the drop isn’t just a coincidence of sequencing.4 Fortunately, it doesn’t look like a product of diminished stuff—his average fastball velocity is actually higher than it 3 Yes, that was a Bill Nye the Science Guy theme song reference. Born in the ‘90s and proud of it. 4 “Coincidence of sequencing?” Consider this: Pitcher A and Pitcher B both get 10 swinging strikes in a game. Pitcher A racks up 10 strikeouts, because all his whiffs came with two strikes. Pitcher B strikes no one out, because he induced swings‐ and‐misses early in the count exclusively. They probably have similar “whiff skills,” even if the results differ. If you had to predict their future strikeout rates, you’d want to have this information on hand.
was in his best strikeout year (2008). Pitch FX data also reveals an uptick in 2‐seam fastballs this year, indicating that the spike in groundballs is intentional. The more groundballs one gets, the more one can get away with fewer strikeouts, because one is reducing the possibility of the ball being hit in the air for a home run. As expected, we conclude our description of Wandy Rodriguez with the word “solid.” Wandy Rodriguez is a solid pitcher. (July 26: Change You Gotta Believe In)
Wheeling and dealing isn’t the only method of roster improvement available
to the Pirates. Tonight, they’ll upgrade from within. Much ballyhooed prospect Starling Marte is set to make his major league debut in Houston after it was announced yesterday, to widespread glee, that he’d be joining the big club.
To this point, the Pirates’ left field situation has consisted of Alex Presley (.231/.269/.364), the recently demoted Jose Tabata (.230/.295/.341), and folk hero Drew Sutton (.241/.250/.431, but with the defensive prowess of a wandering sheep). Meanwhile, Marte’s been coming into his own at Triple‐A Indianapolis (.286/.347/.500, with 13 triples and 12 homers in 99 games), and the clamors for his promotion have grown deafening recently. I understand the reluctance to rush a prospect to the big leagues before he’s absolutely ready, but dire times call for dire measures. Unfortunately, I’m sitting on a plane right now en route to vacation in South Carolina, so I won’t be able to watch. Starling’s batting leadoff. Hope the kid makes something happen. [Flight lands at 8:20, I immediately turn my phone on and refresh Twitter]
First pitch of the ballgame! He could go 0‐for‐August and still maintain the fans’ support after this entrance. The future’s so bright, we gotta wear flip‐down shades.5 (July 29: Speculation)
Everyone is happy about the Wandy acquisition. With the exception the guy
who got forced out of the rotation as a result. 5 Patented by Pirates Hall of Fame player‐manager Fred Clarke in 1915! #BUCN
Correia wants to be a starter, and he’s not content with being a long relief
option in Pittsburgh. Understandable. Being a starting pitcher has a certain badge of honor quality about it, especially for someone who’s started 105 games in the last four years. I wouldn’t be happy either. But I think I’d realize that I was a replacement‐level commodity to begin with.
The other thing I’ve heard today is a vague rumor that the Pirates are one of
the teams probing the Indians about Shin‐Soo Choo’s asking price. Allegedly, it would include Marte. That’s gonna be a no‐go.
We lost to the Astros today. J‐Mac walked SEVEN. I’m starting to become
concerned. He really needs to turn it around or else the rest of the season is going to be “A.J. and Wandy and pray for rain.” 46 hours left to make some deals. In Neal We Trust.
(July 30: Bye, Bye, Brad; Salut, Snider)
Ever see that Jean‐Claude Van Damme movie Sudden Death, where the setting
is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals6 but the focus of everything is the events happening off the ice? Tonight’s game against the Cubs is exactly like that, except that Wrigley Field isn’t laden with bombs intended to kill the Vice President and a bunch of other important people. The Bucs are getting smashed by the Baby Bears, but we’re more focused on possible transactions that are being negotiated during the game, and they’re more concerned about sending their recently traded players off with hugs.
Chicago’s traded Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves, and moved Geovany Soto to the Rangers—and this game isn’t even over yet. Each time, the Cubs have convened in the dugout and taken turns embracing their now ex‐teammates. Watch out, Cubbies: a lengthy pat on the back after a good play might mean, “Nice knowing you,” and not, “Nice job.”
6 In Pittsburgh, coincidentally.
For once, I could care less if Erik Bedard has given up given up nine runs
without getting out of the 5th, because the trade winds are blowing. The Choo rumor isn’t dead yet. Stephen Drew’s name has been mentioned. Putting together a package for San Diego’s Chase Headley is still a remote possibility. Something is going to happen in the next 18 hours. Nobody’s quite sure what.
What, now? I know who Travis Snider is. He’s one of those guys who’s been
talked about as a big prospect for years but hasn’t been able to establish himself in the bigs. Snider brings a ton of upside. I would never have guessed, however, that he’d be on our radar as a potential deadline pickup. When you think deadline acquisitions, you think of proven vets brought in to stabilize a team in the short‐ term, not youngsters with untapped potential. But getting beyond the surprise factor, it sounds like a really good deal.
(Meaning we just got a steal.)
(Morosi=FOXSports.com national baseball writer)
(I thought that was a really funny response.)
Assuredly, some people are going to be upset. The Pirates are surrendering
their 0.50 ERA 7th inning man for an unproven outfielder.
It’s true: Brad Lincoln has been completely fantastic out of the bullpen this year. That’s exactly the issue, though: the consensus is that Lincoln is never going to be much more than a good reliever. There’s value in getting 60‐80 quality relief innings a year out of a guy, but bullpen parts are also a dime a dozen. Just look at the names the Pirates have picked up for essentially nothing over the last few years: Jason Grilli (plucked from Phillies Triple‐A affiliate, sub‐2.00 ERA this year), Juan Cruz ($1.25 million free agent, 2.61 ERA), Jose Veras ($1 million free agent, 9.2 career K/9), Javier Lopez ($775,000 free agent, 2.79 ERA in 2010), and the list goes on. You can take failed starters with good arms (i.e. Lincoln himself) and train them to be effective relievers. If Travis Snider develops into an average position player—
and there’s no reason to think he won’t—he’ll easily equal Lincoln’s worth through the end of their respective team control periods.
Travis Snider has put up a respectable .248/.306/.429 line for the Blue Jays,
while receiving infrequent playing time. He’s never had a chance to settle in at the major league level for more than half a season. Has he lived up to expectations? Not quite. Can we throw him up there with Ryan Leaf and Kwame Brown in the Bust Hall of Fame? Absolutely not.
For someone who’s been dogged for not yet having reached his potential, he doesn’t have very many candles on his birthday cake. (24, to be exact.) Chase Utley didn’t even make his MLB debut until he was older than Snider is today. He’s an asset already, and there’s plenty of time for him to improve.
Thanks to the miracle of social media, we can see the players’ own reactions
to being traded. The new Bucco first:
@Lunchboxhero45? Apparently a simple tribute to his love of eating. I can dig it. Also, “Pittsburg” is a town of 20,233 in Kansas. “Pittsburgh” is the City of Champions. Common mistake. Won’t hold it against him. Your turn, Mr. Lincoln:
It gets better. (Lincoln II; I think autocorrect turned “believe” into “beloved.”)
Very classy exit by Lincoln. I sure hope he’s right. For the record, Brad, I don’t hold it against you that you’re not Tim Lincecum or Clayton Kershaw. (July 31: All Merchandise Must Go By 4 p.m.)
I’m not going to pretend for a second I know what Neal Huntington is trying
to do in the last hours before the non‐waiver deadline arrives. It’s been pretty much ruled out that any of the big names are coming to the Pirates, so we’re probably looking at a few minor additions. The combination of Wandy and Snider is already a
bigger yield than what we picked up around the deadline in 2011—adding Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick for practically nothing—so anything else is gravy.
.202/.250/.306 doesn’t sound like a line of a player that a contending team would want to add to its August/September lineup. He’s also endured two separate demotions to Triple‐A in 2012. If this goes through, we’re really counting on him to rediscover his 2010‐2011 hitting skills.
All right, then. I don’t believe that Sanchez has forgotten how to hit, but it’s less than a sure thing that his numbers will recover to their previous “All‐Star” levels.7 The Pirates clearly believe in either him or their own staff’s ability.
Update on the specifics of the deal.
7 “You get to be an All‐Star, [points at different person] and you get to be an All‐Star, [points at another different person], and you get to be an All‐Star! [points at James McDonald, Ryan Vogelsong, Johnny Cueto, and Ryan Dempster] Sorry, guys, we only have so much space.”
So a uniquely named, but light‐hitting defensive outfielder (Gorkys Hernandez) and an end‐of‐first‐round draft pick8 for a former “All‐Star” and a minor league relief pitcher. I’ll miss watching Gorkys snatch every ball in the area code as a late‐inning defensive replacement, but ultimately he’s not very valuable. Let’s hope the Marlins don’t use the draft pick to take a Hall of Famer.
Time for a worry‐relieving joke.
8 Another part of the new draft rules gives small market teams and low‐revenue teams a chance to win one of the six “competitive balance” picks, which will be selections #31‐36. Unlike regular draft slots, these can be traded. I can’t find anything to complain about here.
Ozzie Guillen wanted to be a sailor when he was a kid, but his language made sailors too uncomfortable and he was forced to turn to baseball instead.
I’ve been giving Jake (the fellow Lincecum lover) the play‐by‐play on today’s
trade action because he doesn’t have Twitter access at the moment. He raises a good point about the logistics of bringing in Sanchez.
Assuming Snider was set to become the everyday right fielder, first base was going to be a platoon of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee. Now there’s another right‐ handed hitting first baseman in the mix. Or is there?
It becomes official minutes later. Color me confused.
Jonah Keri (author of The Extra 2% and my favorite baseball writer) is similarly perplexed.
Harsh, but true—he’s been terrible for the better part of the last three years. 2010‐ 2012 ERA: 5.13. Ouch.
Wait, I just figured it out. We were probably going to cut McGehee anyway,
so we’re just picking up a free player for him instead. Makes a little more sense now. Still not thrilled about having Chad Qualls on the roster.
So now we can call the action final and appraise the moves. Wandy=solid.
(obviously) Snider=good in the short term, possibly GREAT in the long term. Sanchez=why not? Qualls=why? (but not totally inexplicable) The lack of big names reeled in will be no doubt cited by the anti‐ownership forces as proof of indifference on the front office’s part, but that’s because nothing would satisfy them.
Personally, I’m pretty happy with the overall results. We solidified the
rotation, added a couple bats, and—most importantly—didn’t sacrifice any major assets to do it. All the pieces are in place for a run at October baseball. Now pardon me while I go pound some Advil and take a nap.
The deadline is grueling on GMs and fans alike.