With a less than stellar free agent market and several gaping holes in the rotation, it appears likely that the Yankees will fill at least one of these holes through trade. While It is always fun to dream about acquiring pitchers at the top of the spectrum- Felix Hernandez would fit well with CC Sabathia, wouldn’t he- trades like that do not happen often if at all, so we must look at more realistic options.
One such option is Houston Astros Ace Wandy Rodriguez. The 32 year old has been in the majors since 2005. He can be classified as somewhat of a late bloomer as he was signed as an international free agent nearly six years earlier. The Yankees have been tied to the lefty several times over the past few seasons, but an agreement has never been made. The Astros, as a team ensconced at the bottom of the standings, have looked to unload Wandy and his contract, but their prospect demands were too high for the Yankees’ liking.
Throughout his first three seasons in the majors, Wandy struggled, putting up an overall ERA of 5.17 from 2005-2007 with an astronomical 1.45 WHIP. At the age of 28, it seemed he was destined for a career of mediocrity. At the time, his numbers resembled those of a fringe starter at best.
But in his age 29, it was as if a wand was shaken and Rodriguez truly found himself as a pitcher. Over the past four seasons, he has been remarkably consistent. His ERA from 2008-2011 stands at a solid 3.40. Similar to free agent favorite Mark Buerhle, his ERA has not fluctuated much during this time; its trough was 3.02 in 2009 and its peak 3.60 in 2010. When looking for a good mid-rotation starter, this type of stability is an enviable trait.
Wandy Rodriguez does not fall into the prototypical soft-tossing lefty mold, nor does he make it into the flame-throwing strikeout machine league. His fastball will sit in the upper 80’s and touch 92, and he throws a two-seamer at similar speeds. He will, however, rack up strikouts (8.2 K/9 over the four year span) with a good slow curve and a changeup. While he is stronger against left-handed batters, this changeup allows him to remain effective against righties as well.
While Wandy’s ERA remained steady, his peripherals dropped in 2011. His 4.15 FIP was his highest since 2007, though his xFIP remained solid at 3.72. Take a look at his career graph.
Fueling this increased FIP were Wandy’s lowest K/9 and highest BB/9 and HR/9 rates in the last four years. As there was no real change in the velocity or movement in his pitches, this should not be a big worry. Most likely, it was a one year statistical blip. In fact, it would not even be worth mentioning were he not on the wrong side of age-30.
While not an innings-eater in the CC Sabathia/Mark Buerhle mold, Rodriguez is a good bet for more than 180 innings in a season. Since 2008, he has thrown 137.1, 205.2, 195 and 191 innings respectively. Somewhat concerning is the elbow injury that landed him on the 15-day DL back in May.
Of course, all these stats were compiled in the NL Central where Wandy was able to face a light hitting 8-hole guy and a pitcher several times per game. By no means would he come in and put up the same type of numbers in the AL East. But there is no reason to doubt his ability to put up more than 180 innings of a mid-upper 3 ERA, which would prove exceedingly valuable for any team.
Perhaps the greatest factor in this potential trade would be Wandy’s contract, which has him signed for $23 million through 2013, with a $13 million team option for 2014 with a $2.5 million buyout. While this contract is by no means a steal, it is more than reasonable considering the market for a starting pitcher. If Rodriguez were to hit the open market today, he would undoubtedly get more years and a higher average salary.
In the pasts, talks between the Yankees and Astros broke down because of the Astros’ unwillingness to eat much of the salary. It is a problem that is inevitable when trading for high profile players. The acquiring team is essentially paying for that player twice; once in prospects and once in money.
The Yankees seemed willing to include higher level prospects such as Austin Romine or one of their AAA pitchers not named Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances if the Astros would pick up a portion of the salary. Or if the Astros could not afford to do so, the Yankees would probably have agreed to take the whole contract if the quality of the prospects involved was lessened. Houston on the other hand wanted the high quality prospects and for the Yankees to take on the entire salary.
It is likely that this will be the same deal going forward. The Yankees will dangle some nice names, but Houston will ask for too much. Maybe if Wandy’s contract proves to be too much of a burden for a team destined again for last place, Houston’s asking price will come down. However, consistent, left-handed starters come few and far between, and one can bet that there will be quite some competition for the veteran’s services.
In the end, any team has to give up something to get something of value. Perhaps the greatest example is the Curtis Granderson trade. The Yankees got one of the best center fielders in the game, but in the process, had to give up Ian Kennedy and Austin Jackson. Wandy Rodriguez will be no different, and if he can be had for one of David Phelps, Hector Noesi, or Adam Warren plus a lower end prospect, the Yankees would be foolish not to seriously consider.