Ed Wade has dealt in ambiguities when discussing Wandy Rodriguez's future. Very soon he will have to make a firm decision. Trade him, or re-sign him?
As the arbitration process rumbles on, yesterday saw Michael Bourn, Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger agreeing to one year deals, but Wandy Rodriguez and Hunter Pence have yet to be wrapped up for 2011. Michael Bourn got $4.4m in 2011, Keppinger $2.3m and Barmes just under $4m.
Brian McTaggart announced where both un-signed players stand, with Rodriguez filing for $10.25m and the Astros countering with $8m. Pence filed for $6.9m with the Astros at $5.15m. For Pence the process should be relatively simple, as the two parties should meet nearer the middle and agree on a figure, I'm guessing around the $5.5m mark.
But with Wandy, it might not be so simple. While Pence has three more seasons before possible free agency, Rodriguez is on the cusp of the biggest pay-day of his career.
If there is one thing the Astros organisation does well it is arbitration. Last year the Astros won their arbitration hearing against Rodriguez, meaning that he was paid $5m and not the $7m he requested. Two years earlier the Astros won their case with Mark Loretta. But once again Wandy seems to have bucked conventional wisdom, and seems to be angling for more than he can realistically get. Or maybe he is playing hard-ball in the early stages of the process.
But the real supposition I want to ponder is whether Ed Wade actually possess a coherent strategy when it comes to late-blooming lefty.
The Chronicle seems as bamboozled as any of us with Zachary Levine quoting Wade as remaining "open about the possibility of getting a multi-year deal done with Wandy," while Richard Justice speculated earlier in the week about a possible trade, with the New York Yankees being a possible fit.
The New York media has worked itself into quite a lather after Rafael Soriano was the latest reliever to be ridiculously overpaid, and with Joba Chamberlain now less needed in the bullpen, bloggers and columnists have added two and two together and arrived at....five.
Rodriguez has been mentioned as a possible target for the Yankees for most of the offseason, but now that most of the other rotations off the board, the Astros' pitcher is one of the few realistic options left, unless they consider getting in touch with Carl Pavano, who already has one infamous stay at the Bronx under his belt.
So while the Yankees' rotation isn't exactly in the state that some people would like it, it is hardly time to panic. A.J. Burnett's 2010 does not help, nor did Andy Pettitte's vacillation over retirement help Brian Cashman.
But the signing of Soriano has thrown the fanbase into turmoil with suggestions that Cashman was overruled by the new boss Hal Steinbrenner. If Cashman can be forced into signing a set up man to a three year $35m contract, while also losing their first pick of the 2011 Amateur Draft (after the Yankees GM explicitly stated he would only surrender the pick to sign Cliff Lee).
But would he really be black-balled into trading for Rodriguez, with Joba Chamberlain heading a package heading to Houston? Third-baseman/outfielder Brandon Laird and 6' 10'' pitcher Andrew Brackman are two names that have been floated about by some, but after years of hype it would be odd for them to give up on Chamberlain without ever giving him a proper stab at holding down a rotation spot.
However this might be a small price to pay for Wandy's solidity, given that the Royals reportedly wanted catcher Jesus Montero, shortstop Eduardo Nunez and one of the Yankees two top pitching prospects (either Dellin Betances or Manuel Banuelos) for Zack Greinke. You can see then why a trade for Rodriguez might intrigue the Yankees, especially if they aren't thrilled with the prospect of Sergio Mitre or Ivan Novo having signifciant playing time in 2011.
Laird is spare boot right now, having played most of 2010 at AA, but Brackman and Chamberlain are both very intriguing options, even if their respective stock has been diminished recently. Brackman has some great weapons, but still needs a lot of work, while Chamberlain could thrive if he were removed from the pressure cooker atmosphere that is the Big Apple.
But the problem is Ed Wade has never said he wants to trade Rodriguez. Neither has he said he doesn't want to trade Rodriguez. Teams approached him over the availability of Pence, Bourn and Rodriguez during the Winter Meetings but conversations never developed into serious talks. Wade is one who likes to keep his cards close to his chest, but if he cannot get Rodriguez to sign a contract extension, then trading him away for a solid return is the next best option.
Trading him away in July or offering him arbitration next winter and taking a compensation pick if he declined would be viewed as bucking a decision rather than making one.
Wandy is an underrated pitcher and while he has not performed consistently at an elite level, he has shown flashes of brilliance in the last four seasons, usually at home. As he turns 32 next season some would make the case that he would be past his prime, but considering he had a 2.02 ERA in his last 18 starts of 2010, while racking up the joint second most strikeouts in the NL and a K/BB ratio (3.61) that equalled AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez after the All-Star Break, it is difficult to make that argument stand up.
If only his away form equalled his performances at Minute Maid Park he would be a perennial front-runner in the league ERA lead. In the past four years he has ERAs of 2.94, 2.99, 2.08 and 2.82 at Minute Maid Park. Using Ted Lilly's three year, $33m contract off the Dodgers as a benchmark, Rodriguez probably feels himself entitled to at least four years for $40m. At $10m a year he would probably perform above that, as sabermetrics estimate his value in terms of performance as $17.9m in 2009 and $14.5m in 2010. But would a four year contract make sense during a 'rebuilding phase'?
Wandy is a tight-lipped fellow, and lets his performances on the mound do the talking, literally. Whether he would accept that sort of money, or is keen to move to pastures new, is anyone's guess. Secretly I think Wade would be happy to get the pitcher's substantial salary off the books as Drayton McLane looks to sell the franchise, and a trade such as the one mentioned above would give the Astros a piece to put in Wandy's place whilst also getting one or two nice prospects to re-stock the minor league system.
Whichever way Wade is leaning, he needs to step up and make a firm decision. Now is not the time for dithering.