After many, including myself, criticized the Pirates for not being more active at the trade deadline, Neal Huntington decided to make some moves early in the waiver deadline period. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Pirates announced they had reacquired the familiar face of Sean Rodriguez from the Atlanta Braves for slow developing prospect Connor Joe. The team also claimed controllable, veteran reliever George Kontos, another great move. Sticking with Rodriguez, however, he had only played a handful of games for the Braves but while he was recovering from injury, Atlanta had replaced him with younger options. Because of this, the Braves put Rodriguez on revocable waivers, where the Pirates claimed him and worked out the deal to bring him back to Pittsburgh. But what kind of impact will he bring in his second stint in black and gold?
By simply looking at his stats, Sean Rod doesn’t look like he would be the big boost that the Pirates are looking for in the second half of the season and next year. In his limited MLB action in 2017, Rodriguez is hitting below .200 and has a relatively average OPS of .769. But dig deeper into the stats and you will see a player who could be exactly what the Pirates were looking for. First of all, Sean Rod finally gives the Pirates a competent option as a fourth outfielder. While it isn’t his natural position, Rodriguez is an upgrade in the outfield compared to slow footed Jose Osuna and John Jaso who always looks confused out there. Over his career, Rodriguez has converted every single routine play in the outfield. And according to Fangraphs defensive metrics, Rodriguez posts above average marks on balls that range from likely to unlikely to be caught (somewhere between 60-75% catch rate).
Outside of the defense that he provides in the outfield, Rodriguez also brings versatility that the team has been lacking. Now that he is back, Sean Rod can be the super-utility player that Max Moroff has failed to be in his limited time in the majors. The bat will also be an improvement for the role that Rodriguez will play. Sure, that batting average is garbage at the moment but he still has a respectable on-base percentage and average slugging percentage. Once he starts to feel comfortable returning from his injury and starts to connect with the ball, which is sure to happen with more reps, those numbers are bound to go up. And don’t forget, the best offensive year of Sean Rodriguez’s career came last year with the Pirates. Being back in a familiar ballpark with familiar surroundings will help expedite that process, as evidenced by the walk-off homer he hit on Sunday.
Greatest of all though, I think the acquisition of Rodriguez gives the Pirates an attitude or swagger that they were missing. It may sound corny and like something that shouldn’t matter in a locker room but Rodriguez brings a motivational spirit to the team reminiscent of A.J. Burnett. Just think of what the guy went through this year. He survived a horrific car crash in the offseason and suffered an injury that was supposed to sideline him for the entire season, yet he is back playing in July. He had 72 hours to report to Pittsburgh after the trade but showed up the next morning to suit up for the Sunday game that he happened to hit a walk-off home run in. His reasoning? Because the team was only 4.5 games back and he was ready for the playoff push. No one else has even been remotely expecting the team to be playoff contenders over the past few weeks. And speaking of that home run, the way the team and fans reacted tells you how loved Serpico is by the players and the city. That’s something that the normal acquisition doesn’t bring to your team.
While he may not be the move that fans were expecting or hoping for, you can’t deny that Rodriguez brings a lot to the team that warrants trading a college prospect that hasn’t hit in the minors. Plus, Sean Rod is under contract for another season, meaning that the Pirates won’t have to re-sign John Jaso or find a replacement for him on the bench. And for those who want more, it shows that Neal Huntington is still willing to make additions to the club and isn’t packing it in. The Pirates added Rodriguez and Kontos, who’s to say that if they get within 2-3 games of first in the next week that NH won’t go out and look for a starter on revocable waivers? They could also add a more traditional outfield bat to replace Marte in a possible playoff appearance.
For now, the Pirates have Rodriguez. And that is one of the most logical moves that the Pirates could have made this year. Now we can only hope that being back home will get Rodriguez back on track and help push the Bucs into the postseason picture.