Even if you're just a casual fan, you've likely heard by now that the Orioles acquired reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers in exchange for infield prospect Nick Delmonico. Heading into this season, Delmonico was ranked by Baseball America as the O's fourth best prospect (behind Jonathan Schoop but ahead of Eduardo Rodriguez). According to Baseball Prospectus, he was the O's sixth best prospect.
First, let's stop to note Rodriguez's previous off-field antics, which I'll briefly discuss (but won't have any effect on the breakdown of the trade below). In August 2010, he punched the father of his girlfriend after a game. He pleaded guilty to assault charges and received a sentence of 52 weeks of anger management. Then in September 2012, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his new girlfriend. The case was dropped, though, because his girlfriend and the housekeeper, an eyewitness, went back to Venezuela. Some may have different opinions on whether or not such behavior matters when signing or acquiring a player, but facts are facts. Back to the analysis.
Rodriguez signed a minor league contract with the Brewers in mid-April, and he'll be a free agent after this season. He's also making a bit more than $2 million. So the O's are parting with Delmonico for a few months of Rodriguez's services. Rodriguez did start the year in the minors, pitching two innings each in single- and triple-A, and he was eventually promoted to the major leagues in mid-May.
In 24.2 innings with the Brewers, he had a 1.09 ERA and 10 saves (if you care about things like save totals). An ERA that low is obviously great in any situation, but it's misleading. His strikeouts are up and his walks are down from last season, which are both positives. But he's been lucky on balls in play (.250 BABIP vs. .276 for his career), his 99.1% strand rate is ridiculously high (the major league average is 73.2%), and his 28.3% ground ball rate would be the lowest of his career by nearly 10%. Again, we're dealing with a little more than 24 innings, and weird things can happen in such a tiny sample. But more hits are probably going to start dropping in against him, more runners are going to score instead of being left on the basepaths, and if his low HR/FB rate jumps any higher, he's going to see an increase in homers allowed, especially if his fly ball rate (50%) stays close to where it is. (Ed. note: Just wanted to clarify that last part. Because he's been giving up a lot of fly balls, any jump in his HR/FB rate would not be a good thing. I probably could have worded that better.)
So it's not surprising to note that Rodriguez is due for some regression, but he's still a useful bullpen piece that Buck Showalter gets to experiment with. Rodriguez should fit in nicely with Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter to form a troika of right-handed relievers to pitch anytime in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings in front of Jim Johnson. So that part is helpful.
But was that bullpen upgrade worth a mid-level prospect in Delmonico? That depends who you ask. Two writers I read regularly, Keith Law and Jonah Keri, differ on the topic. Law, who writes more from the scouting side of things, thinks the O's paid a "steep price" in the trade (Insider access required). Keri, though, believes the O's "didn't give up a ton" in parting with Delmonico, noting some of his weaknesses and then equating him to "something of a lottery ticket."
Some fans weren't happy when the O's traded for Scott Feldman because he's merely a decent but not great rotation option. But he's already thrown 26.2 innings for the O's (and has pitched better than his 4.73 ERA indicates) and has plenty of starts to go. Rodriguez, on the other hand, may not surpass that inning total by much, yet you could argue that the Brewers (with Delmonico) made out better than the Cubs (with Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop).
In a way, it's hard not to admire Dan Duquette's gumption. When the Orioles have seemingly soured on a prospect or someone they've signed to a minor league contract, they're not afraid to cut ties with that player. Obviously shipping Delmonico to Milwaukee is different than losing someone like Jair Jurrjens or Jon Rauch, but the O's deemed Delmonico expendable and used him to shore up the bullpen.
I don't agree with the thinking that because the O's have Manny Machado and Chris Davis manning the corners that it's OK to part with any corner infield prospect. Why? Organizational depth is important. Players get hurt. And promising players, even ones viewed as expendable, can be traded in a package for more value in return. Feldman has been a nice pickup; hopefully Rodriguez pitches well, too. But if the Orioles are really "going for it," would it have been wiser for them to pool some of these mid-level assets in order to acquire a better player? That depends on the specifics of a potential deal, of course, but a front-line starter would look a whole lot better than Feldman or Jason Hammel right now.
Maybe that's a pipe dream, but I still think the Orioles could have done better in this situation. Shoring up the bullpen is perhaps the easiest thing on a major league roster to fix, but this trade didn't reflect that. Then again, if Delmonico never develops in the Brewers system, this trade probably won't matter that much.