HOUSTON -- Wandy Rodriguez, the last holdover from the Astros' 2005 National League championship team, was shipped to the Pirates on Tuesday night in the latest of a flurry of deals Houston has made this month.
The loss of Rodriguez, who won 10 games as a rookie in '05 and helped the Astros reach the World Series, essentially marks the end of an era in Houston baseball. The lefty had been in the organization for more than a dozen years and adorned the cover of the team's media guide this year.
New Astros management wants to rebuild from the bottom up and has dealt away several veteran players in the past month as it prepares to move to the American League next year. The Astros, who also sent cash to the Pirates, acquired left-handed pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain and outfielder Robbie Grossman.
Prospects acquired by Astros
Robbie Grossman, OF: The No. 7 prospect on the Pirates' Top 20 at the time of the trade, Grossman started very slowly in 2012 after a breakout in 2011 that saw him draw 100 walks and score 100 runs. An over-slot signing in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft, he's been back to the guy who hits for average and gets on base in June and July. Each of his tools don't grade out as outstanding individually, but the sum of them, to go along with outstanding instincts, make him a more intriguing prospect.
Rudy Owens, LHP: No. 12 on the Pirates' Top 20, Owens has bounced back from a so-so 2011 season after climbing up the ladder quickly. More command than stuff, he is throwing harder now than he did when he started his career. The 2006 28th-round Draft-and-follow throws a changeup and curve and commands all three of his pitches well. His ceiling is as a No. 3 starter.
Colton Cain, LHP: Cain was No. 16 on the Pirates' Top 20, though after a solid full-season debut in 2011, he's been just OK in the Florida State League in 2012. He had been pitching better of late, with a 2.33 ERA in July. He's an intriguing prospect as a lefty with a plus fastball. When he's throwing well, his curve and changeup work well, too. Still just 21, there's plenty of time for the 2009 over-slot signee to develop.
"The Astros had a great era that resulted in the World Series in 2005, and Wandy was a part of that," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He's been a successful pitcher for a successful organization. It's been a rough last few years, and we're going to do everything we can to hurry it up, speed up the process, so that we can get back to those types of years where we're in the American League Championship Series and hopefully the World Series again."
Rodriguez, who made his final start for the Astros on Monday, hugged his teammates and coaches in the dugout Tuesday after finding out he was traded and left the ballpark. He'll join his new club when it comes to Houston on Thursday.
Rodriguez spoke via phone to MLB.com and admitted it's tough leaving the Astros organization after 13 years. He was 80-84 with a 4.04 ERA in his seven seasons in Houston and struck out more batters than any left-hander in club history. He's second on the team's all-time charts among lefties in starts (218), wins and innings pitched (1,306 2/3).
"I feel like I could cry," Rodriguez told MLB.com. "It's a hard situation. We've been together for years in Spring Training and through the season, and when I said goodbye to my teammates, it was very emotional."
That being said, Rodriguez knows the club is headed in a new direction as it rebuilds.
"I understand for the Astros organization, they want young guys," he said. "Pittsburgh is very, very good and playing really good now."
Rodriguez, 33, is making $10 million this season and $13 million next year. There's a $13 million option for 2014 that essentially now kicks in because Rodriguez is traded.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Astros are throwing in approximately $12 million. The Pirates are obligated to pay $1.7 million this season, $8.5 million next season and $7.5 million in 2014 if Rodriguez exercises what is now a player option, which is a given.
"We had several clubs inquiring about him, and it was a fairly competitive situation," Luhnow said. "Pittsburgh put their best foot forward, and they really feel like Wandy's an important part of their playoff picture this year. They essentially made us an offer we couldn't refuse, acquiring three prospects we believe are not only high-ceiling prospects, but prospects we believe have a chance to be here in Houston maybe as early as this year but certainly next year."
Owens, 24, has posted an 8-5 record and a 3.14 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis this season. He has 85 strikeouts and has walked only 25 in his 117 1/3 innings pitched. Owens, who will join the club's 40-man roster and be assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, was Pittsburgh's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009 and '10.
Grossman, 22, was hitting .262 with 20 doubles, seven home runs, 35 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage in 94 games for Double-A Altoona this season. Primarily a center fielder, Grossman was named Pittsburgh's Minor League Player of the Year last year after hitting .294 and leading the Florida State League with 124 runs scored and 104 walks in 134 games.
The switch-hitting Grossman was ranked by MLB.com as Pittsburgh's No. 7 prospect. He was originally a sixth-round selection in the 2008 Draft out of Cy-Fair High School in Houston. He'll join Double-A Corpus Christi.
Cain, 21, is 3-5 this season with a 4.20 ERA in 16 starts for Class A Bradenton in the Florida State League. He has allowed just a .242 opponent's batting average, including a .226 mark against right-handed hitters. A graduate of Waxahachie High School in Texas, Cain was considered one of the top high school players in the state before being selected by Pittsburgh in the eighth round of the 2009 Draft. He'll report to Class A Lancaster.
"One of the guys on my staff put together an estimate, and in terms of the signing bonuses of the guys alone it was close to $10 million we've added [in all the trades Luhnow has made in Houston]," Luhnow said. "We've accumulated quite a lot of talent in our system, and it's everywhere -- from Rookie ball to Triple-A -- and we feel good about that."
In the last three weeks, the Astros made four trades, dealing veterans Brett Myers, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, Carlos Lee and Rodriguez in exchange for 11 Minor League players and two players to be named.
"We're going to continue to think about ways we can improve the team right now," Luhnow said. "I'm not happy with the results we have right now, and I want to make sure we can do everything we can do to improve the team in the short term as well. I think we've done a lot to take care of the long term, and now it's time to start focusing on what we can do to help this team in the short term."