The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Houston Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez and with his departure, no players remain from the 2005 National League champions. This isn’t a somber exit though, just business as the semi-consistent lefty joins Carlos Lee, Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers as Minute Maid Park veterans traded for prospects with smaller paychecks and organizational depth.
In return, the Astros received three top-20 Pirates minor leaguers. The centerpiece of the deal is Robbie Grossman, a Cy-Fair High School alum and former commit to the University of Texas. Selected in the 6th round of the 2008 Draft, Grossman signed with Pittsburgh and bypassed Austin for a cool $1 million. At 22, he’s currently in Double-A hitting .262 with a .778 OPS, 58 runs, 4 triples, 7 home runs and 91 hits. Grossman also mans centerfield, a premium return for general manager Jeff Luhnow considering Jordan Schafer‘s disappointing season on and off the field. If he’s patrolling the same position at Minute Maid by 2014 and produces for any sustainable period, this trade is a victory in unloading a 33 year-old pitcher for a rebuilding franchise.
Also headed for the Bayou City are left-handed starter Rudy Owens, a 24 year-old in Triple-A and 21 year-old left-handed pitcher Colton Cain. The latter also committed to Texas before being drafted in the eighth round in 2009 and signing for $1.15 million. It’s safe to assume Augie Garrido doesn’t send the Pirates Christmas cards. Cain’s fastball reaches the mid-90’s but he’s yet to exhibit a command of his other pitches that might earn him more plaudits. At High-A, he’s sporting a 2.04-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 4.20 ERA in 16 starts and striking out 6.1 batters per nine innings. Those numbers sit somewhere in the middle of elite or terrible and at 21, that’s okay in this deal. If he’s a future lights-out reliever, so be it. If Cain can harness his numerous talents and become a back-end of the rotation anchor, Luhnow found a steal.
Owens represents the player most likely to don Astros pinstripes immediately. He struggled in Triple-A in 2011 but by repeating this season, the southpaw re-established himself as a prospect worth watching. 3.4/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 3.14 ERA in 19 starts and 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings. That stat line outpaces what Wandy Rodriguez has become as he’s aged and if Owens holds a spot in the rotation for the next few seasons, again, Luhnow succeeded.
It’s difficult to term this deal a rousing win for either side but it fulfilled needs. Pittsburgh is shooting for a division title and another starting pitcher makes that a bit more probable, though not a guarantee. Houston simply doesn’t have room for veterans and accruing young talent while hoping one turns into a star is a model framework for rebuilding. None of the three prospects may roam or produce at Minute Maid Park. But they aren’t 33 (or owed nearly $30 million the next three years of which the Astros will pay $12 million according to CBS Sports Jon Heyman) and they’re cheap and that’s the best sort of player for a team staring at the worst record in baseball in consecutive years.