|Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter|
It’s been a busy afternoon for the Atlanta Braves. Shortly after the surprising announcement that they had promoted Max Fried to the Show, the team announced that they had dealt utility man Sean Rodriguez to the Pirates in exchange for minor leaguer Connor Joe. Jace Peterson returns from Gwinnett to replace Rodriguez.
Rodriguez signed on Thanksgiving last fall to the tune of $11.5 million over two seasons. At the time, the Braves loved what Rodriguez provided for them. He could play everywhere and gave the Braves a bridge at two positions – second and third – where they were waiting on prospects to develop. He also gave them an option against left-hand pitching, which the Braves needed with Peterson penciled in at second base.
But things changed in a hurry. Before spring training, Rodriguez was involved in a horrific car wreck that sent his family to the hospital. While everyone would be okay enough to head home in a few days, Rodriguez would need shoulder surgery. In response, the Braves acquired Brandon Phillips to be their everyday second baseman. Initial fears were that Rodriguez might miss the entire season, but the tireless worker returned to play in his first rehab game on July 1. After a few weeks, he made his return to the majors on July 17. Over 15 games and 47 PA, Rodriguez had done little at the plate except hit a pair of pinch-hit home runs.
Rodriguez seemed to fit less into the July and August version of the Braves than he had with the proposed 25-man roster in November and December. The Braves had added Matt Adams and Danny Santana to the team while Johan Camargo had emerged to become a significant member of the Braves moving forward. The recent call-up of Ozzie Albies only compounded the problem of finding Rodriguez at-bats – even with Matt Kemp on the mend.
Who the Braves received in the deal isn’t all that important. But…Connor Joe was the 39th overall selection in the 2014 draft. He was considered a bit of a reach at the time as a borderline Top 100 prospect. Despite being primarily a 1B/RF in college, the Pirates decided to focus Joe on catching – something he was more of a project at. He quickly was hurt and didn’t play the rest of the summer. Once healthy, the Pirates scrapped that idea and sent him to first base, then third base, and then the corner outfield slots. He’s only made a cameo at 3B this season as he’s shifted between 1B and the corner OF positions more.
Joe wasn’t drafted for his glove, though. Unfortunately, hitting professional pitching is a bit tougher than hitting West Coast Conference pitching. Over parts of three seasons, Joe has slashed .257/.352/.361 while climbing from A-ball to Double-A. He doesn’t strike out much and is lauded for his professionalism, but he’s not much of a prospect right now.
What the Braves received in the deal is much more important.
First, they received some financial flexibility this season and next. Similar to how the Braves traded away Jaime Garcia for a project rather than pay down salary to – in essence – buy a prospect, the Braves are making more of a salary dump. Rodriguez was owed roughly $2M this year and $5M next year. That’s cleared with this deal. There is also the subject of the $1.5M signing bonus. I don’t have any particulars related to that, but typically, signing bonuses are spread evenly over a contract. The Braves have probably paid half of the signing bonus already and might even pay the other half. Ignoring that, they saved $7M or so.
Second, the Braves cleared another 40-man roster spot. I mentioned how tight things could become on the 40-man roster a few days ago when addressing the Ronald Acuna situation. With this trade, Rodriguez’s spot is cleared. For more on players who might need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, here’s a list. Joe, by the way, will be eligible.
Third, this deal naturally leads to the possibility that more is on the way. By more, I mean both more trades of veterans through the waiver trade process and more in the sense that something bigger might happen. While adding a well-regarded established player at this point seems unlikely – Chris Archer isn’t going through waivers, people – the Braves could set themselves up to add another prospect. As long as a prospect is not on the 40-man roster, they do not have to pass through waivers.
How might such a scenario play out? Say a Contending Team is trying to add a big piece to their roster. That might come from the Braves, but it doesn’t have to. Say the Contending Team needs to clear salary to add the player they want. The Braves, who have shaved off $6M or $7M or so in salary, could absorb a significant contract while also getting a good prospect. In some respects, that’s similar to the Touki Toussaint trade.
Either way, the Braves felt that paying Rodriguez $5M in 2018 was a bit too much. It’s unfortunate because of everything Rodriguez went through – the car wreck, the quick rehab, the early struggles. Rodriguez came to Atlanta to be a difference maker for a young team on the rise. Now, he heads back to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Atlanta is primed to make another big August move or two as they look to build toward contention in 2018.