There are about 400 things to love about Dereck Rodriguez, and only 373 of them have to do with the extremely detailed tattoo of Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman on his arm. If I got a tattoo from movie that came out two weeks after I was born, it would probably be a tattoo of the mashed potato sculpture from Close Encounters, which would rule. This is a good tattoo strategy, and we should thank Rodriguez for discovering it.
But there are other things to love, too. That he looks like he was the original bassist in Machine Head. That he has a father we’ve all heard of (and a mother who seems pretty cool, too). That he seems to throw baseballs well and helps the Giants win. That he has an extremely detailed tattoo of Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman on his arm. We’ll focus on the part where he throws baseballs well, though, since it seems to be the most important part of the story.
What blows me away about Rodriguez is that he made just 70 starts in the minors. That’s because he was once an outfielder, yes, but that doesn’t minimize just how limited his mound experience is. Compare this with other Giants right-handers from prospect past.
Ryan Vogelsong had 76 minor league starts when he was traded away to the Pirates, and he had to circumnavigate the globe to become an effective starter. Chris Stratton has made 147 starts in his professional career, and he’s a big ol’ enigma. Tyler Beede is more experienced than Rodriguez, technically, but it’s pretty obvious that he might need twice as many starts to learn how to pitch. If that’s even possible.
Usually when a pitcher has that few starts in the minors, he’s still raw. There are freaks like Tim Lincecum who zip through the minors in 20 starts because of their physical gifts, but those players usually get a nickname to describe how rare they are. Like “The Freak.” Show me a pitcher who doesn’t make a ton of starts in the minors, and I’ll show you someone with a 99-mph fastball who was drafted in the first round and probably doesn’t know where the ball is going most of the time. That is, unless he’s a lefty with pinpoint command.
Rodriguez is neither of those. He’s a sturdy right-hander who throws a strong curve with a 92 or 93-mph fastball, neither of which would make him successful on their own. But he complements this with solid command and a Krukow-blessed idea of how to pitch. He’s pitching beyond his experience, and it’s a beautiful thing.
This brings us to this year’s trade deadline, which will almost certainly leave you disappointed. The Giants want to spend money next year, and that means they can’t spend money at the deadline. They’ll be limited as to what they can/will do, and that’s before you get to the part where the farm system isn’t overflowing with breakout performances. There aren’t a lot of prospects to deal, and there isn’t a lot of room to add salary even if there were.
If we could draw up the perfect deadline target, it would probably be a left fielder with several years of team control who could sock dinger after dinger. Even if that player existed, he wouldn’t be on the market. So we’ll have to try harder.
If we could draw up the second-most perfect deadline target, it would look something like this: a young, effective pitcher who can pitch deep into games and would be underpaid for years, which would help the Giants spend more money on overpaid players in the near future. Think of what the Yankees thought they were getting with Sonny Gray, and you’ll have a template for what the Giants would want in an ideal scenario. Cheap, young, and effective is the deadline dream these days.
I’m using a Don Pardo voice now, and I’d like you to ask yourself what would you pay for a pitcher like that. One top prospect? Two? If a player like that were on the market, there would be a bidding war. Team control is all the rage with trades these days, as is a pitcher who can consistently pitch deep into games.
Rodriguez isn’t a sure thing. He’s still something of a surprise, and it’s possible — likely? — that teams will be more comfortable in their second and third starts against him. There’s no comparing him to Chris Archer, or whomever you want to use, just because he’s started his career brilliantly.
Still, here’s what I want you to pretend:
- The Giants traded for a 26-year-old starting pitcher with solid statistics
- This pitcher is under contract for the next several years if the Giants want to keep him
- He’s effective
- He seems durable
- He pitches like a veteran
- That means there’s no six-walk chicanery that makes you pull your hair out, which is what you normally get from rookies
- The Giants had to give up only the prospects who you were never fond of in the first place. You don’t have to name names.
Pretend Rodriguez came from the Rays. No, the Cardinals. You’re not sure why he’s available, but he’s someone you’ve coveted for years, and now he’s on the Giants in the prime of his career, and you don’t even miss the prospects it took to get him. What a danged coup.
This will help ease the inevitable disappointment of the deadline. It’s the idea that the Giants were already given the gift of a player who fits exactly what they needed, somehow. The Giants built their entire team around the idea that they would have three known quantities leading their rotation, and it took about a week for that plan to go straight into the toilet. And yet here they are, filling you with the eh-maybe confidence of a .500 team, on the back of someone pitching far beyond his years who was picked up for free.
Dereck Rodriguez is a gift, a happy accident. If you pretend that he was an established player that you’ve coveted from afar for a couple years, he’ll make you feel better about the deadline. If you think the real story is just as fun, that’s fine, too. The Giants haven’t had a lot of these gifts over the last couple years.
They have one now, though, and it’s been one of the most enjoyable parts of the season. If the Giants don’t make that perfect deal at the deadline, that’ll be a shame. But don’t forget that they somehow added exactly the type of player they would have been looking for, and they didn’t even have to give anything valuable up. The deadline will be a drag, but in a very real sense, they did better than most of us could have possibly expected.
Sorry, I meant “in a very fake sense.” Still, it helps me stop grumbling about the deadline. And it makes me appreciate Dereck Rodriguez even more.