It depends on who you ask, but the Royals either dodged a bullet or missed an opportunity when left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez was claimed by the Rockies Tuesday afternoon.
Rodriguez was placed on waivers by Houston, who hope to unload the remaining two years on a contract extension (and the $23 million he’s owed). Though the trading deadline passed on July 31, teams can use waivers to pass players through with the aim of trading them. With the Rockies claiming Rodriguez, the Astros can now pull him off waivers or work out a trade with Colorado. They could also allow them to claim Rodriguez outright without a trade being agreed to.
Call me crazy, but I’m in the camp that thinks the Royals missed an opportunity by staying out of the Wandy sweepstakes.
I won’t try to claim that Rodriguez is a diamond in the rough that is a blossoming Cy Young candidate waiting to happen. He’s got his warts. He’s a surprising 32 years old, his career ERA+ is just barely above average, and he’s never been a standout in the league.
Again, I say the Royals missed out.
Since 2008, Rodriguez has accumulated 685 innings, a span in which he’s produced a 3.35 ERA in the National League. He has a strikeout rate of 8.2 K/9 and a walkrate of 2.9 BB/9 in that period.
His career ERA ranks him 29th among all active pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched. He doesn’t land among the top ten of any NL pitching leaderboard. He is what he is: a consistently effective, reasonably durable left-handed starter.
He may be the most bland pitcher who’ll earn eight figures next year, but he’s a player who would help a team who’s starting to find its identity, but is still in need of starting pitching. Wandy Rodriguez, if he had been claimed by the Royals, would be next year’s opening day starter.
Who are our other alternatives? Luke Hochevar has a career ERA above 5.00 still and hasn’t shown any signs of progressing this year that he hasn’t shown for a few weeks here or there in his career already. Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis may not be back, and if they were, they don’t have top of the rotation resumes. Danny Duffy has shown a good arm but isn’t ready to be the anchor of the staff yet. It’s looking like Felipe Paulino will end up with the honor if things don’t change during the offseason. As Gage Matthews showed earlier, he’s been the best Royals starter this year. We can do better.
If I told you that the Royals had an opportunity to snag Cole Hamels off waivers and keep him through 2013, would you say they should take it? What if his contract cost $23 million over the next two years? I’d think that’d be a fine option for any team.
Hamels, since 2008, has better numbers than Rodriguez. They aren’t overwhelming though. He’s thrown 116.2 more innings and walked less per nine innings, but it’s not much different beyond that. Compare Wandy’s 3.35 ERA to Hamels 3.29, or their matching 8.2 K/9. Rodriguez gives up 0.4 more H/9 but they both surrender one home run per nine innings.
Of course, Rodriguez turns 33 in January, and relative to his previous seasons, his strikeout rate has fallen a bit, so he’s not Hamels’s equivalent, but he’s not far off by his track record.
The money shouldn’t be a great concern, since the Royals have a great deal of flexibility with so many rookies on the team and it’s not a crippling long-term deal. Gil Meche was a risk, but one which paid off until Trey Hillman turned his shoulder into ground chuck. Jeff Francoeur was a risk, but he’s been worthy of an extension.
This is all hypothetical, of course. That is, unless the Rockies and Astros don’t come to a trade agreement and pull him back. If that happens, they can place him on waivers again but any team that claims him will take him outright with no option for a trade.
That’s an important condition, because Rodriguez has a player option for 2014 for $13 million if he’s traded. Without a trade, Rodriguez could anchor the staff until one of Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi or Duffy step up to be the man and then he would be out of the picture before he turned 35 and became a high-priced roadblock.
The pitching market this offseason is pretty thin, and who knows how many pitchers will sign with other teams anyway (Chris Carpenter, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are pretty likely to stay where they are). Rodriguez would be a nice pickup and one the Royals wouldn’t have to outbid anyone for as well.
There’s nothing flashy about Wandy Rodriguez. He’s not a name brand starter. He is better than I’d suspect most people would imagine and considering what the Royals have now, if the Rockies pass him up, they’d be wise to go after him.