By Jason Shetler
Looking to add versatility on the bench for the 2015 season, the Pirates acquired Sean Rodriguez from the Tampa Bay Rays for pitcher Buddy Borden. While Rodriguez displayed solid defense at most of the positions he played at, the offensive numbers were quite meager, as he posted just a .642 OPS, along with an oWAR of -0.5.
Despite Rodriguez’s poor offensive production in 2015, the Pirates made the unpopular decision to re-sign the veteran utility man to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. The salary however was reasonable, given that his defensive value alone was worth that amount. The signing wound up paying big dividends for the Pirates, as Rodriguez had his most productive season offensively in 2016. His 18 home runs were a career high, while his .859 OPS was a personal best. Overall, he was about a two-win player, with a 1.9 WAR, which is a solid mark for a bench player.
The Pirates were looking to bring back Rodriguez again this past offseason, but they were unable to, as he agreed to terms on a two-year/$11.5 million dollar deal with the Atlanta Braves on Thanksgiving. In January, Rodriguez, his wife and two kids thankfully survived a terrifying car crash. Based on the injuries, it was unclear whether or not Rodriguez would play at all in 2017. He defied the odds, making his season debut for the Braves on July 17th.
After not being very active at the trade deadline, the Pirates made a pair of moves this past Saturday. One was claiming veteran reliever George Kontos off waivers from the San Francisco Giants, while the other was acquiring Rodriguez from the Braves in exchange for 2014 competitive balance pick Connor Joe. Here’s why it made sense for the Pirates to bring Rodriguez back.
Whether it was the Starling Marte suspension or a Gregory Polanco DL stint, the Pirates were lacking any kind of reliable defensive fourth outfielder, with the likes of John Jaso, Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier. Rodriguez has shown flashes of being a quality outfielder, and if nothing else, is an upgrade over the other three. Aside from the outfield, he can play above average defense at other positions, which would be vital for the Pirates in terms of run prevention. Rodriguez’s bat is also a nice addition to the bench. GM Neal Huntington mentioned on his radio show this past Sunday that the Rodriguez acquisition was made in part to provide the team with more depth, as well as the uncertainty of Jung-Ho Kang moving forward. The return wasn’t really significant, with Joe not even being a Top 30 prospect in the Braves system. Given all those reasons, the Rodriguez trade was definitely understandable.