Saturday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates brought back a familiar face: super utilityman Sean Rodriguez. Acquiring Rodriguez is an excellent depth move for a team that hasn’t given up on postseason aspirations just yet.

 

At last, the Pittsburgh Pirates have made their big trade.

Well, it’s not a huge haul and no major prospects were lost. Nonetheless, this is the trade that the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to make.

It’s not about specifically acquiring Sean Rodriguez, it’s about acquiring infield and outfield depth. Rodriguez has played every spot on the diamond except for catcher and pitcher.

The Pirates should have made a move of this type in April when Starling Marte was suspended for use of nandrolone to have a third outfielder.

Outfield issues

Obviously, Rodriguez wasn’t able to play in the first month of the MLB season, but someone of similar ability should have been acquired. John Jaso has struggled to the tune of -8 defensive runs saved in right field and Adam Frazier wasn’t much better there (-3).

Manager Clint Hurdle is resistant to playing Jose Osuna much in the outfield since the natural first baseman has a combined -3.4 ultimate zone rating between left field and right field.

When Marte was out, these were the three players getting the most opportunities in the outfield alongside Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. Now, they have either been relegated to backup duty or, in Frazier’s case, to second base primarily.

With Rodriguez a Pirate again, there is no need for any of them to be considered a fourth outfielder again.

A career-year in 2016 led to an $11.5 million contract with the Braves. Now, the Pirates hope for the 2016 version of Rodriguez to return to Pittsburgh.

A better backup

Rodriguez’s advanced metrics in the outfield indicate that he is a major league average fielder. He has -3 DRS in left field, but that’s mostly buoyed by a -4 DRS 2014 season with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Jaso has been a disaster in right field and Osuna has a strong arm, but may not be suited for the outfield. Frazier has performed well in left field (6 DRS) and could still see time there, but he played the infield primarily in college.

Let’s not forget that Rodriguez is also an improvement with the bat. Between Jaso, Osuna and Frazier, only Osuna had a wRC+ at 100 and he has the fewest plate appearances of the three (178). Last season, Rodriguez’s 129 wRC+ was second among Pirates batters with at least 300 plate appearances. This year, only Andrew McCutchen (138) has a wRC+ greater than 2016 Rodriguez among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances.

Additionally, Rodriguez finished fourth on the team with 18 home runs and second in wOBA (.363) last season. He provided pop and got on base.

 

Helping out the infield

As great as Rodriguez look as a backup outfielder, he also provides stellar depth to the infield. Since he can play all four spots, regular players will have more opportunities to rest. Hurdle has wanted third baseman David Freese to play less especially. Now, he may finally have the right depth to spell Freese.

Rodriguez has played third base less than any other infield position in his career, but he can still help. If Rodriguez starts at second base, Josh Harrison can slide over to third. In 2,031.1 innings at second base, Rodriguez has an 11.3 UZR, his best of any position.

Additionally, Rodriguez provides Pittsburgh with a competent backup shortstop. As valuable as Jordy Mercer has been in 2017 (1.8 WAR per FanGraphs, third best on the team), he needs his rest. Mercer has started at shortstop for all but two of 28 games since July 2.

It’s not a huge haul and no major prospects were lost. Nonetheless, this is the trade that the Pittsburgh Pirates needed to make.

 

First base

In 2015, Rodriguez left his mark in his first season with the Pirates as the late-game defensive replacement at first base for Pedro Alvarez. Rodriguez is far more valuable now to solely be doing that, but it is an option in 2017.

Josh Bell has made his presence felt with his bat (109 wRC+), but his -8.7 defensive runs above average ranks 19th among 27 qualified major-league first basemen. Osuna (-5.4) and Jaso (-6.9) have also had their problems.

With Rodriguez (-3.6 in 2016 and -1.5 in 2015), the Pirates get a slight improvement defensively. By no means would he take over for Bell, but Rodriguez can be a late-game replacement or spot starter at first.

 

Impressive versatility

Acquiring Sean Rodriguez does not mean that the Pittsburgh Pirates are ready to claim the National League Central division. Even with him, they may not make the playoffs. However, with Rodriguez, the Pirates have at least fixed a depth issue and provided a solid bat off the bench.

With Rodriguez under control for next season as well, he can continue to boost Pittsburgh’s depth in the future. Acquiring Rodriguez essentially bumps Max Moroff from his role as a backup middle infielder and it is an improvement. Moroff worked well defensively (3 DRS at second base), but has struggled with the bat, slashing .145/.239/.210.

General manager Neal Huntington insisted that he was not giving up on the 2017 season and the acquisition of Sean Rodriguez is irrefutable proof of his claim. Even with Rodriguez, Pittsburgh may still miss the playoffs, but Huntington is making a positive move without sacrificing prospects or being over-aggressive.

 

Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Joel Norman

Joel Norman is a journalism major at West Virginia University. In addition to writing for Pirates Breakdown, Joel covers WVU sports for the Daily Athenaeum and writes game recaps and features for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Joel also does play-by-play broadcasts of WVU hockey and baseball for WWVU-FM in Morgantown.

  • Kurt Streams

    Why was SRod’s contract too pricey in the offseason, but okay now? I know his injury meant he couldn’t have filled in for Kang and Marte earlier, but that’s not the point when it comes to his price tag. This trade points to ownership imposing a hard cap on payroll that Huntington must manage within. The Kang and Marte savings made the SRod pickup possible. I wonder which position player is cut next year to stay under the cap if Kang and his salary returns. I’m guessing Chris Stewart is not re-signed and Diaz takes his spot. This fiscal discipline costs the Pirates wins.

  • GN

    SRod had a chance to start in Atlanta so you cannot fault him for choosing there. At that time, 12 million for two years is too pricey for many clubs for a backup at 7 positions. It is still expensive now but after half a season of watching Frazier, Osuna and Jaso struggle defensively, it is a cost the Pirates have to accept. Frazier has gone along with management plans and shifted as requested. It may not be fair to rate him as a poor defender as he may not be ready to bounce around. Osuna needs to spend an off-season working on a different position as he is blocked by Bell at first. Perhaps he will be considered in trades and this year is an auditioning for him. Jaso should never be put anywhere but first but he has at least gone where he was asked without airing the issue in public.

    SRod helps so maybe the defense gets better. With Jaso and Stewart likely gone next year, SRod could be the 3rd line first basement with Cervelli put there periodically to give Bell a rest and get Diaz some time behind the plate. Perhaps whatever money is saved will be spent on a third basement.