Pudge should get lots of work in Houston

March, 16, 2009

Besides entertainment value, the World Baseball Classic is serving another important purpose: giving veteran free agents a chance to showcase their talents for 2009 regular-season work. Such is the case with Ivan Rodriguez, who parlayed a hot start in the WBC into a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Astros on Monday.

Pudge has certainly demonstrated during the WBC that he can still hit; he batted .600 (9-for-15) with two home runs and 18 total bases in four games. That's quite a turnaround from his miserable finish with the Yankees in 2008; he batted .219 with a .580 OPS in 33 games for them, one of the most miserable stretches of his entire career.

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Problem is, it's going to take more than four games of an exhibition for Rodriguez to prove he's still a productive enough hitter. His home run total has slipped in each of the past four seasons, to seven in 2008, his lowest total since his rookie year of 1991. Rodriguez also slugged .394, his lowest number in 16 years. He posted a .319 on-base percentage, but has been beneath .300 in two of the past four seasons.

Rodriguez will get his opportunities in Houston, with Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles his primary competition this spring. Neither of the two stands much of a chance at bumping this probable Hall of Famer. That Quintero and Towles were batting a combined .162 (6-for-37) this spring pretty much cinches Pudge's starter status on Opening Day.

In the most likely event, the Astros will keep Quintero as Rodriguez's little-used backup, a more appropriate role for him, while returning Towles, a rookie bust in 2008, to Triple-A for more seasoning. If anything, Rodriguez's arrival in Houston cancels any chance for Towles to enjoy a bounce-back 2009, barring, of course, an injury to the veteran.

As for Rodriguez's draft value, he's capable of at worst batting .270 with 8-10 home runs, making him the kind of No. 2 catcher who won't hurt you. NL-only owners will need to look at him in that kind of role at the very least, though his mixed-league appeal remains limited at this advanced stage of his career. He's not the kind of guy I'd be excited to land as my second backstop in a mixed league, unless it's 16 or more teams.



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