I was just going to tweet about this, but all of the details of this small-time deal require a bit more investigation. I covered this deal in some depth exactly one year ago, but here’s the Cliff’s notes version. Rodriguez was signed by the Braves on Thanksgiving in 2016 for $11.5 million. At the time, the expectation was that Rodriguez would be a stopgap option at second base while Ozzie Albies developed. When Albies made it to the majors, Rodriguez would fall back into a super utility role.
The plan was solid considering Rodriguez’s success with the Pirates, but just before spring training, Rodriguez’s season – and potentially so much more – were threatened when a drunk man ran into his vehicle, sending not just Rodriguez but his wife and kids to the hospital. Rodriguez would require shoulder surgery and the Braves quickly added Brandon Phillips.
By the beginning of last July, Rodriguez was playing rehab games before making his Braves’ debut on July 17. Over 15 games, Rodriguez would hit just .162 over 47 PA, though he did hit a pair of pinch-hit home runs. With roughly $7 million left on his contract, the belief was that Atlanta would have to wait until 2018 to hopefully get the guy they had signed the previous winter. But that’s when the Pirates stepped in. Despite being three games under .500 and out of the Wild Card race, Pittsburgh was just 4.5 games out of the Central. It was still confusing why they made this deal, though. Their offense was one of the worst in baseball and with the way Rodriguez was hitting, adding him wouldn’t help.
But there was the hope that a return to the team he had been so productive with during 2016 might help. It didn’t. Rodriguez’s OPS, which was sitting at .677 at the time of the trade, fell a hundred points over the final two months. Meanwhile, the player the Braves acquired, Connor Joe, wasn’t doing much either.
The 39th overall pick of the 2014 draft was considered a bust. Well, first, he was a stretch as a borderline Top 100 draft prospect, but now he was a bust. After initially trying to teach him catching, the Pirates let Joe settle into a corner infielder/outfielder role and he wasn’t particularly good at it. The impressive raw power he flashed with the University of San Diego only translated into 11 career homers in the 250 or so games he played in before the trade. Hardly what you expect from a corner bat.
Joe would struggle with Mississippi after the trade, hitting .135 over 61 PA with one extra-base hit. Acquired as a salary dump, his time with the Braves seemed limited and on September 24, that time came to a close. He was traded to the Dodgers for $500,000 of international pool money. About a week later, John Coppolella resigned as General Manager of the Braves. Funny enough, two months later, the Braves traded that international pool money to the Angels in the Jim Johnson deal. Even funnier – they used it to sign Kevin Maitan. Is funny the right word?
Our story doesn’t end here and not because Rodriguez continues to play – poorly – for the Pirates. Despite Pittsburgh’s amazing recent success, Rodriguez continues to struggle to the tune of .164/.278/.315. He plays every position and has the respect of his teammates, but this is a results-driven business and Rodriguez isn’t having many positive results. The fans in Pittsburgh, many of whom were upset at their front office for letting him go to Atlanta in the first place, have turned against him. In a recent game, they serenaded him with chants of “D-F-A!” Ouch.
As bad as things have been for Rodriguez and the man who signed him and later dealt him (Coppolella), things have turned out pretty well for one Connor Kok-Wy Joe out of San Diego. He opened the year in Tulsa with a .304/.425/.554 run that included 11 home runs – tying his career total. In mid-June, he earned a promotion to Oklahoma City and he’s only hit .298/.369/.526 with them. Oh, and give him a handful of homers and a sweet sixteen for the year.
That’s a bit of a switch in hitting success, don’t you think? Joe’s line-drive rate has ballooned while his groundball rate has tanked. Who knew that making better contact would be so key? Now, to be fair, Joe went from a non-hitter’s league to one where hitting is a little easier in the Double-A switch from the Southern to Texas Leagues. He also went from Trustmark Park, a terrible park to try to hit homers in, to Tulsa where homers fly out on the regular. Now? He’s in the Pacific Coast League, which is as hitter-friendly as they come. So there is that, but Joe has made some tweaks with the Dodgers. As a result, L.A. has yet another hitter for them to find room for or trade for much more than the $500K in international money they gave up.
So, to sum up, the Braves saved money and helped to make their trade offer of Jim Johnson more appealing to the Angels. The Pirates got an expensive utility player their fans now hate. And the Dodgers got a post-hype sleeper prospect.
I don’t know if Alex Anthopoulos had anything to do with this trade with the Dodgers, but if he did, I am pretty glad he’s on the Braves’ side now. Hell, even if he didn’t, I’m still damn glad.