The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros in exchange for 22 year old outfield prospect Robbie Grossman and left-handed pitchers Colton Cain and Rudy Owens. The Astros will also be including $12 million in the deal to be delivered over the next three years to partially cover the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract, which looks like this:

  • 2012: $10 million.
  • 2013: $13 million.
  • 2014: $13 million (player option).

The additional funds make Rodriguez’s contract with the Pirates look more like this

  • 2012: $8 million.
  • 2013: $8.5 million.
  • 2014: $7.5 million (player option).

Even with the cash that comes with the deal, that player option in 2014 looms large because when Rodriguez’s contract was originally signed with the Astros ahead of the 2011 season, it was a team option. It was written into the deal that if a trade were to occur, the final year of his contract would be at the player’s discretion. That last year is now a no-win situation for the Pirates. If Rodriguez pitches well for the remainder of this season and in 2013, he’ll opt out. If he doesn’t pitch well, he gladly soak up more of the team’s payroll.

However, this trade isn’t about the 2014 season for Pittsburgh. It’s about the here and now, and in the here and now, the Pirates are a game and a half back of the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the National League Central Division. The addition of Rodriguez bolsters their chance of overcoming the minuscule deficit to the Reds, and this is what’s important to Pittsburgh and their long suffering fan base.

Rodriguez, despite a couple of recent rough outings, appears to be in the midst of a typically good season. He’s striking out fewer batters, but also walking fewer while inducing more ground balls through an increased reliance on his sinker. He probably comes to Pittsburgh as the team’s third best starter, but perhaps more importantly the most reliable. While James McDonald, A.J. Burnett and even Erik Bedard have had great seasons pitching for the Pirates, their performances to date have been somewhat unexpected. Rodriguez brings a reliable consistency to the starting rotation that it was previously missing.

The Astros continue their much anticipated fire sale, this time showing a willingness to invest additional dollars in the deal to pick up superior prospects. At the beginning of the season, Robbie Grossman was considered to be the sixth best prospect in a very good Pirates system. He hasn’t dominated in his first season at Double A as he did the year before at High A, but he’s put up solid numbers against the superior competition. Meanwhile, left-hander Colton Cain, ranked as the ninth best prospect at the beginning of the year by Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus has struggled in his debut at High A this season, but as a 21-year old there is obviously some growing pains to get through. Another southpaw, Rudy Owens was ranked 15th in the BP list, and in his second year at the Triple A level, represents the closest of the three to being Major League ready. He’s looked a lot better this year than last, striking out more and walking less, but that could very well be the effect of repeating the level.

Again, we see a deal that works out well for both teams. Given how much money the Pirates are receiving from the Astors and the pre-existing depth in their system that allows them to make this trade, I might give a slight edge to Pittsburgh. However, that’s dependent on pre-existing conditions outside of the Astros control, and imagining this deal to occur in a vacuum. It’s not a vacuum, and the Astros have little in the way of prospect depth throughout their Minor League system. They’ve done a good job of beginning the rebuild this July, and this trade continues to give faith that the team and the fan base will be in good hands as it joins the increasingly competitive American League West next year.