Pirates acquire infielder Rodriguez from Rays

Pirates acquire infielder Rodriguez from Rays

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Monday morning's trade for infielder Sean Rodriguez completed a unique Pirates housecleaning. Their offseason had begun with four candidates to not be tendered contracts by the Tuesday 11:59 p.m. ET non-tender deadline. With Rodriguez, all four of those have now been replaced by versatile infielders.

The last to make way was first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who had to be designated for assignment to clear 40-man roster space for Rodriguez, acquired from Tampa Bay either for a player to be named or cash considerations.

Previously, right-handers John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez were designated for assignment (and subsequently became free agents) and first baseman Ike Davis was dealt to Oakland. Their places on the 40-man roster went to three players who, like Rodriguez, essentially fit into the same mold of utility infielder: Justin Sellers, Jake Elmore and Pedro Florimon.

"We've acquired players who we like and who can help us in different ways," general manager Neal Huntington said. "The addition of Rodriguez may seem like duplication, but the years have shown the value of depth. He can step in and have a nice role on the Major League club -- the other guys will come into camp and compete, maybe go to Triple-A and provide us with options if we have an injury."

Huntington will try to work out a deal involving Sanchez and, barring that, indeed non-tender him at the deadline. Sanchez and Davis last season had combined for 146 starts at first base -- now clearly the province of Pedro Alvarez. Rodriguez is different from the other infield imports in that his versatility includes significant play at first base.

"He could be a guy we use to protect Pedro," Huntington said. "He can hit left-handed pitching, and is another player who will allow us to build a versatile bench."

Rodriguez packs considerable punch. In 2014, he had 12 homers in 237 at-bats, which compares favorably with Sanchez's seven in 262 at-bats. However, Rodriguez may fall short in the two primary roles handled by Sanchez: Spot starts against lefties (Sanchez is a career .291 hitter versus southpaws to Rodriguez's .247) and pinch-hitting (Sanchez led the Majors in 2014 with 13 RBIs off the bench, Rodriguez is a career .143 pinch-hitter with seven RBIs in 77 at-bats).

Actually, there could be new non-tender candidates among the players added by the Bucs in recent weeks. If you presume Huntington felt he was finding better infield options as he went along, and thus consider significant the order in which they were obtained, most on the bubble are Sellers, acquired in a cash transaction with the Indians on Oct. 24, and Elmore, picked up on waivers from the Reds two weeks later.

The Pirates' 40-man roster currently is filled to capacity, so the non-tender route is one way room could be created for possible subsequent additions. At 40, for instance, the club's hands would be tied at next week's Rule 5 Draft. Huntington has not been a very enthusiastic participant in that process, but early in his tenure he did snag a couple of relievers who became solid, if short-term, cogs in the bullpen: Evan Meek in 2007, then Donnie Veal in '08.

Huntington has a track record of not being shy about using the non-tender hammer, and of making the right calls. He has averaged two non-tendered players in his first seven years on the job, and few of the 15 players thus let go had a significant post-Pittsburgh career. However, two of the exceptions are recent: Garrett Jones went on to hit 15 homers and drive in 53 runs for the Marlins, and catcher Michael McKenry batted .315 in a limited role with the Rockies.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.