Perception or reality: Wandy Rodriguez … underrated?

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News that the Rockies claimed Wandy Rodriguez off waivers and will have until Thursday afternoon to potentially work out a trade with the Astros for him has me wondering if the 32-year-old left-hander is underrated.

For the past week or so various prominent media members have been acting as if Rodriguez’s contract is a Vernon Wells-like albatross that no team in its right mind would possibly touch, but is it really that bad?

He’s owed $10 million in 2012 and $13 million in 2013, with a $13 million team option or $2.5 million buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he’s traded. So if the Astros simply decide to let the Rockies claim him for nothing it’s essentially a two-year, $25.5 million contract and if instead the two sides work out a trade that gets him to Colorado it’s a three-year, $37 million deal.

That’s certainly no bargain, but this offseason Jorge De La Rosa signed a two-year, $21.5 million deal while Carl Pavano and Jake Westbrook each got $16 million for two years. Rodriguez is slightly more expensive than those three veteran starters, but he’s also a better pitcher. In fact, among the 83 different MLB pitchers with at least 400 innings since 2009 he ranks 18th in ERA and 20th in xFIP. In other words, he’s been a low-end No. 1 starter or a top-notch No. 2 starter, posting ERAs of 3.02, 3.60, and 3.31 during that time.

Rodriguez has never had elite raw stuff and there’s clearly a widely held perception that he’s nowhere near as good as his numbers, yet his performance has consistently placed him among the top 20 or 25 starters in baseball and even a three-year, $37 million commitment doesn’t seem all that crazy in that context. Whether or not Rodriguez is capable of thriving while calling Coors Field home is another issue altogether, but in terms of his track record and contract it sure seems like perception has trumped performance in Rodriguez’s case.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.