UPDATE: So much for all that. Now general manager Neal Huntington has announced that Rodriguez will make the Opening Day roster after all.
Prior to the Rule 5 draft in December the Pirates talked about not being particularly excited about their options with the No. 1 pick and then made a selection that was widely panned, taking infielder Josh Rodriguez from the Indians.
In recapping the draft, Baseball America described Rodriguez as an “offensive-minded utility type” and “bench fodder, not a potential regular.”
Four months later Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette writes that Rodriguez “probably will not make the 25-man roster out of spring training” and the Pirates must offer him back to the Indians if he doesn’t remain on the major-league roster all season.
That may seem like a misstep by the Pirates, particularly since everyone is so used to their making missteps over the years, but ultimately the Rule 5 draft is a crapshoot where the success stories are few and far between and even teams with the No. 1 pick rarely strike gold. In fact, the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft failed to stick in the majors all season in 2010 (Jamie Hoffman), 2009 (Terrell Young), 2008 (Tim Lahey), and 2007 (Ryan Goleski).
There have been plenty of worthwhile Rule 5 selections during that time, including stars like Josh Hamilton and Joakim Soria, but it looks like the No. 1 pick will fail to stick for the fifth straight season.
In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.
“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.
“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.
Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.