The Rockies, by claiming Wandy Rodriguez on waivers, obviously are prepared to swallow the rest of the left-hander’s contract – a potential hit of about $37 million for the rest of this season plus the next three.
The Astros might simply let Rodriguez go, if only to further pare down their future obligations. But if they intend to move him now, the most sensible outcome is a trade – a trade that would include an exchange of talent to the Astros and cash to the Rockies.
For the Rockies, a financial contribution from the Astros would make Rodriguez a more reasonable investment.
For the Astros, the acquisition of one or more players would help justify the loss of Rodriguez, their best starting pitcher, in ways that a pure salary dump would not.
Let’s say the Astros could get right-hander Jason Hammel and a legit prospect or two for Rodriguez. Would that be enough? Maybe not. But add in the savings, and the deal could be worthwhile.
The Rockies, in exchange for the players, would want salary relief. Rodriguez, if traded or assigned on a waiver claim, will earn an average of $12 million from 2012 to ’14. His salaries for ’12 and ’13 are guaranteed, and his club option for ’14 will become a player option if he changes teams.
Rodriguez is a better pitcher than many perceive; as pointed out by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com, he ranks 17th in the majors in ERA since the start of the 2008 season. Still, Rodriguez will be 33 in January – and the Rockies surely would prefer to pay him say, $9 million per season rather than $12 million.
At such a number, the deal would start to make sense.
The Rockies struggle to attract free-agent pitchers to Colorado. The starting-pitching market this offseason is expected to be thin. Getting Rodriguez for something in the range of three years, $27 million, plus the cost in talent, would not be an unreasonable move.
If the Rockies included Hammel in the trade, their rotation next season could include Rodriguez, Jhoulys Chacin and Esmil Rogers, plus Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, the two pitchers they acquired from the Indians for Ubaldo Jimenez.
Rodriguez, with Jimenez gone and Aaron Cook in the final year of his contract, would be the veteran anchor. Left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, recovering from Tommy John surgery, could return later in the season.
At that point, the Rockies would have three lefty starters – Rodriguez, De La Rosa and Pomeranz – in the pitching-rich NL West. And if the Astros didn’t take Hammel, the Rockies would be left with a near-surplus of starters, and could trade Hammel or someone else this winter.
The Astros, though, might not want to move Rodriguez at all.
For one thing, the team currently is in an ownership transition; baseball has yet to approve Jim Crane’s purchase from Drayton McLane, and the two might have very different ideas of what direction the club should take.
Crane supported the trades of outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn in cost-cutting moves, sources say. McLane, who has always preferred to compete with star-quality players, might resist losing yet another big name.
The trades of Pence and Bourn reduced the Astros’ 2012 obligations to $47.2 million. The team could keep Rodriguez and still comfortably hit the $60 million payroll number that sources say the new ownership desires.
So, why should the Astros even bother?
The addition of a pitcher like Hammel, who is 7-12 with a 5.24 ERA, would not compensate for the loss of Rodriguez. But the addition of Hammel plus a quality prospect or two could help the Astros if they intend to rebuild with the most time-honored strategy – by tearing down and building back up again.
Of course, the Astros do not need to trade Rodriguez right away; they would gain far more leverage if they waited until the offseason, when they wouldn’t be restricted to dealing with just one team. The risk, of course, is that Rodriguez could get hurt. And who knows? The Astros might not get a better deal than the Rockies offer.
The deadline for the teams to reach a decision is 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. One source estimates that the chance of Rodriguez going to the Rockies is less than 20 percent.