Can Magic Wandy, Astros Ward Off Father Time?

The last time the Houston Astros made the playoffs, they reached the World Series. That season was 2005, and their appearance in the fall classic was over almost before it started, as the Chicago White Sox swept the Astros behind one of the most dominant starting rotation performances in recent playoff memory. Since then, the Astros haven’t reached the playoffs, finishing under .500 three times. With what seems as one last grasp to maintain the memory of their mid-decade glory, the Astros signed the remaining holdover from the 2005 World Series squad, starter Wandy Rodriguez, to a three year, $34 million contract on Tuesday.

There’s little doubt about Wandy’s ability right now. The 2010 season was Rodriguez’s third straight posting an ERA, FIP and xFIP under 4.00. Since 2008, Rodriguez has a WAR of 10.2, ranking 28th in the MLB, which can be attributed to both his production as well as his durability – at least 195 innings for the last two seasons and 180 or more in three out of the last four. Although Wandy isn’t a bona fide staff ace, he has established himself as an extremely reliable and quite productive pitcher.

The problem is Rodriguez’s age, as he turned 32 last week. His new contract takes him through his age 32, 33, and 34 seasons, a tumultuous time for even some of the most stalwart starting pitchers. Wandy should be good enough in 2011 to outplay his contract, but for 2012 and 2013 he will have to fight off not only the decline that tends to grasp at players his age, but also the injuries that eat away the careers of many a pitcher in their 30s.

Still, in a vacuum, this contract makes sense, even if it isn’t great. If we assume Rodriguez is a 3.5 WAR pitcher – fair, I think, given has last few seasons – and then assume half a win of decline per season – maybe generous, given his age – the Astros will pay $34 million for 9 wins. That’s already better than the market value of around $5 million per win, and after accounting for inflation in the final two seasons, it only looks better.

But given the Astros current roster – they might run out a lineup with Clint Barmes batting second – and the short-term moves made by NL Central teams this winter, contention just isn’t in the cards for 2011 and probably not 2012 either. It wouldn’t be fair to the Astros to count them out by 2013 already, but that is the year in which Rodriguez is least likely to provide them with value and therefore most likely for that contract to be burdensome.

One of the main reasons behind the Astros’ recent incompetence appears to be a presence of low value, high cost veteran contracts. The Carlos Lee signing looks crippling right now. Miguel Tejada was paid $14+ million in 2008 and 2009. The Astros have needed to rebuild for at least a couple of years now, but contracts like these have prevented their talent on hand from becoming assets and forced the team to simply hope for waves and waves of talent like those soon to come out of the Kansas City Royals system. Unfortunately, the Astros’ highly paid players have been just talented enough to win enough games to keep their draft picks out of the top slots. The result? A dry (albeit slightly invigorated in 2010) system which doesn’t seem to have the answers as of yet, at least not on the scale necessary for a rebuild.

When presented with the choice of unloading Rodriguez for pieces of the future – and looking at some deals for starting pitching this year, there may have been some choice prospects available – or hoping that Wandy could stay around for Houston’s next competitive season, the Astros chose the latter. But given everything surrounding the organization – a lack of talent on the field, on the farm, and, at least given many of Ed Wade’s recent moves, in the front office – as well as Rodriguez’s relatively advanced age, the odds are long that the Astros will get anything of real value for their money or years.

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14 Responses to “Can Magic Wandy, Astros Ward Off Father Time?”

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  1. Travis says:

    Any thought that this might be to ensure fair trade value if they do decide to trade him? Seemingly would cost more if he’s under club control for 2 more years as opposed to an FA at the end of the season.

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  2. Rick says:

    Wandy with that contract signed is more an asset than he was as just a guy entering his final year of arbitration — that is assuming he doesn’t have a no trade…

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  3. John says:

    Yea, if he can stay healthy, wouldn’t he be fairly attractive to be moved at the deadline for the next 3 years? He has been consistent measured by all metrics, and is signed at or below market value.

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  4. phoenix2042 says:

    one trade that i think could be good for both sides would be wandy to the yankees. the yankees desperately, again DESPERATELY need starting pitching, especially left handed starting pitching. they would be willing to give the farm away for a solid guy with almost ace potential who can strike out 8+/9IP and has that intangible postseason experience. add on to that the fact that the astros can drop about 10mil off their roster this year and 34 in the next 3 years while picking up a couple top prospects like montero or banuelos, and it seems like a good deal for both sides. the astros save money and stock up on some top 50 prospects while the yankees employ their continual win now strategy by filling the need for both left handed starting pitching and a viable #2 to CC. maybe the yankees would even be willing to ship some cash to houston too, if the astros are lucky!

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  5. B says:

    Wandy doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff, and he doesn’t have as much mileage on his arm that most 32 year old starters have. I tend to think he’s a guy who will age well.

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  6. Man says:

    They should probably just deal him to the Yanks now, if they can. I’d think the Yanks would be interested, especially since he’s a LHP.

    No point waiting til midseason and risk injury, bad 1st half, etc. potentially killing his trade value, especially since the Yanks are still looking hard to fill out their rotation (w/ no Pettitte in sight).

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  7. CJ says:

    This contract is pretty close to the same as Ted Lilly’s contract with the Dodgers (except that Lilly has a no trade clause). However, Wandy is three years younger than Lilly, and presumably is less of an age risk than Lilly. Both Lilly and Wandy put up identically ERA+ over the last three years.

    The Astros have to put a team on the field which is competitive enough to draw fans to the ballpark. That’s what they have to do because that ultimately is the reason that the business exists. It’s not like the Astros have a huge pool of starting pitchers to continually replenish the rotation. If Wandy is not under contract, then the Astros will be culling through the free agent market for starting pitchers in the future. I think I would prefer to take my chances with Wandy.

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  8. JP says:

    “the odds are long that the Astros will get anything of real value for their money or years.”

    Please please stop writing about the Astros. Your opinions make my blood boil and want to tell you to put away your calculator and watch the game. You seem to take pleasure in writing something snarky about Houston at every opportunity. Why is this?

    Yes he’s 32, but he’s also a soft-tossing lefty who lives and dies by his curveball. He’s never had a huge jump in innings and has not pitched too many innings up to 32.

    His value over the past two seasons have been estimated at $17.9m and $14.7m, so why is it not reasonable to assume, paying $11m a season that the Astros will get fair value from him? His second half to 2010 showed that he’s close to putting it ALL together as a pitcher, and I think, under Brad Arnsberg he can continue at close to that level.

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  9. Matt says:

    “…at least given many of Ed Wade’s recent moves, in the front office…”
    What recent moves has Ed Wade made lately that are so bad? Last year he signed Brett Myers for next to nothing and got exceptional value. He signed Brandon Lyon and got fair value. He traded crap prospects for Matt Lindstrom, got little value, then traded Lindstrom for equivalent crap prospects — nothing gained or lost. This year he traded an all heat, no head pitcher for a good D SS who might add some pop to the lineup. Barmes woudl have gone on the free agent market and commanded more years and dollars than the $4M he got in arbitration, and there’s a great chance he’ll have value much higher than his salary (and that Paulino ends up being worth squat). Bill Hall was a cheap signing that is sure to bring excess value. What else am I missing?

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  10. Nathaniel Dawson says:

    I’m really not following the logic that just because the Astro’s probably won’t compete for the next couple of years, they shouldn’t try to get good value on their signings. Why wouldn’t they want to sign Wandy Rodriguez if it’s a good deal for them and it makes their team better able to win games for the next few seasons? Aren’t baseball teams suppose to try and win as many games as possible?

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  11. Chris says:

    Tying in with this new deal… I just got offered Latos $11 and Coghlan $11 for Wandy $13 and Tabata $6. I am looking for some advice… I guess it has to be if Coghlan can produce close to Tabata, because Latos is better than wandy.

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