A long time ago, on a team that was going nowhere fast, Wandy Rodriguez was once considered the top trade chip that the Houston Astros possessed.
As we all may remember in 2012, the Astros were entering the infant stage of the rebuild and well on their way out of the National League. The team was also entering the second of three consecutive 100+ plus loss seasons and known as the laughingstock of baseball. Wandy Rodriguez may recall that those were not the best times to be an Astro.
But after much speculation when the Astros would finally trade the lone holdover from their 2005 NL Champion squad, the team finally found a suitable trade partner in the Pittsburgh Pirates during the summer of 2012. The trade was seen as a necessary step the Astros had to take to rebuild to the next level. By trading Rodriguez, the team was able to unload at least a portion of the three-year, $34 million extension he signed before the 2011 season.
General manager Jeff Luhnow was also able to land three prospects in Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colton Cain that helped reestablish depth in the Astros minor league system. The trade also fulfilled a need for Pittsburgh as they desired another veteran starter to help anchor their rotation in their push for the playoffs.
Flash forward to 2015 and Rodriguez has come back to the place where his career started as he signed a minor league contract with the Astros that also includes an invite to spring training just yesterday. This begs the question though of who “won” the trade between Pittsburgh and Houston back in 2012; heck, one can argue even if there was a “winner” knowing what we know now.
On paper Rodriguez satisfied a need with the Pirates, but the success he had in Houston eluded him as he moved on to Pennsylvania. The left-hander only threw 164.1 innings with Pirates over the course of three seasons as he battled various injuries that kept him sidelined for extended periods of time. But when healthy during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, Rodriguez seem to be the same quietly effective pitcher that he was from 2009-11.
In fact, the former Astro went 5-4 after the trade with a 3.72 ERA in 13 games (12 starts). He also went 6-4 in 62.2 innings of work during the 2013 season, and that same year he maintained a 3.54 ERA with a 17.7% K%. Unfortunately, injuries took its toll and when he made his comeback in 2014, it appeared that Rodriguez was a shell of his former self. In just 26.2 innings, the long-time starter gave up ten home runs to go with a -0.8 WAR. The Pirates, not surprisingly, designated him for assignment early into the 2014 season.
Needless to say, it appears that Pittsburgh did not win the trade so that must mean Houston wins by default, right? Not necessarily. It actually appears that Houston suffered the bigger letdown in the trade when considering the expectations surrounding the trifecta of prospects they received.
Grossman was arguably the player with the most upside coming to the Astros back in 2012. Never known for his power, the Houston native did have the tools to be a decent hitter and outfielder in the big leagues. Don’t forget that he was ranked as the Pirates eighth-best prospect at the time of the trade. And initially, Grossman did seem to be at least another intriguing option for the future as he impressed in limited playing time in 2013 when he slashed .268/.332/.370 with a .353 BABIP.
However, it all went downhill after that. With extended playing time in 2014, Grossman failed to improve upon his 2013 showing and didn’t meet the expectations placed upon him. Add a 95 wRC+ and .306 wOBA in 422 plate appearances into the equation, along with some defensive miscues, and it became apparent to the Astros that the former top prospect may not be in the team’s long-term plans after all. After spending the majority 2015 season toiling in the minors, Grossman eventually found himself released from the Astros and recently signed a deal with the Cleveland Indians.
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The two other pieces of the deal, Owens, and Cain, never really accomplished much as members of the Astros organization. After spending the entire 2013 in the minors, Owens made only one start as an Astro in 2014 and was then demoted afterward. He has since resurfaced as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies in their each respective minor league systems last year. Cain last pitched for the Astros in 2014 at the Rookie and AA affiliate levels. He appeared in only 17 games that season with a 5.29 ERA/1.825 WHIP.
As one can tell, there really doesn’t seem to be a winner in this trade from the Astros or Pirates perspective. Both teams fulfilled a pressing need at the time, but none of the players acquired really panned out the way both organizations hoped they would. And while there isn’t the winner in this trade, it also doesn’t mean that there was a loser. After all, not every trade can work out like everyone hopes for, and there is nothing wrong with that. Not every trade has a true winner or loser, sometimes its just not that easy to figure out.
**Statistics are provided by Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference**