The World Series is over, which means that the 2011 baseball season is officially dead. Good riddance! The Series was surprisingly entertaining this year, but I’m sure it will pale in comparison to the excitement that the offseason brings. Let the speculation begin!
As we all know, the Twins have a gaping hole in their rotation, a hole measuring at least 12 feet, 4 inches (the combined height of Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing). Along with finding a shortstop, picking up a new starting pitcher is job one for the Twins.
Which brings us to Wandy Rodriguez. I don’t know if any pitcher in MLB has been the subject of more trade rumors than Rodriguez over the last two years, and for good reason. The 32 year old southpaw is a very talented pitcher on a horrible team. Since the Astros have no chance of being competitive before Rodriguez’s contract expires, they have every reason to trade him. The Yankees wanted him at the deadline last year, and the Rockies are still interested. No doubt they’ll be joined in the Rodriguez sweepstakes by every MLB team that needs a pitcher, including the Twins, who apparently at least called the Astros before they plummeted in the standings last July.
What would Rodriguez bring to the table? He is a standard-issue “crafty lefty” type who hurls a fastball at about 89 miles per hour along with a slider and a slow curveball. According to Fangraphs, the curveball is his most effective pitch, which makes sense given that crafty lefties usually need deceptive breaking pitches to succeed. And he has succeeded; in the last four seasons, Rodriguez has an ERA of 3.40 with a 1.29 WHIP and 668 strikeouts in 729 innings. Because of the weak Astro offense, Rodriguez hasn’t piled up wins, but he has been durable enough to pitch somewhere near 200 innings each year from 2009 through 2011. And the high strikeout rate means that Rodriguez wouldn’t be completely at the mercy of his fielders, a plus with the shaky Twins defense.
How about the downsides? Rodriguez will be 33 years old by next season’s beginning, so he’s likely to experience some sort of decline in the near future. I don’t know how much you should read into this, but his strikeout total did dip last year to 166, or 7.8 per nine innings, which was his lowest rate since 2007. Age decline or not, some NL pitchers seem to have trouble switching to the AL, where better hitters and the DH rule make life tougher.
So how much would he cost? Salary-wise, Rodriguez has a big price tag for a pitcher of his caliber. He will pull down $10 million in 2012 and $13 million in 2013. There is also a $13 million team option for 2014. If the Astros really are interested in moving him, they might be persuaded to pick up some of that salary, but that would require the team that wants him to up its trade offer. According to the MLB Trade Rumors article linked above, the Rockies tried to pry Rodriguez from Houston by offering mediocre players, but the ‘Stros wanted a better prospect (Drew Pomeranz or Wilin Rosario) in return. The Twins, of course, have a dearth of top prospects in their system, but the Astros might be willing to move Rodriguez for a couple of their promising young outfielders.
All things considered, I’m not convinced that Rodriguez is a great option for the Twins. He might be able to help the Twins in 2012, but the cost would be high. As one of the few remaining trade chips Houston has, they are sure to try to reap as big a return as possible. If the Twins are to outbid all the other teams that want him, they’ll have to part with some pretty good minor league players. Even if that strategy works, Rodriguez’s age makes him a big question mark beyond this season. I don’t think it would be in the team’s best interest to promise $23 million to an aging pitcher, especially if they do go have to go into rebuilding mode.