SAN DIEGO - While a franchise-altering trade hung in the balance, the Phillies completed one deal yesterday afternoon, their first major transaction of the winter.
Veteran reliever Antonio Bastardo was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for lefthanded pitching prospect Joely Rodriguez.
Bastardo, 29, was a pivotal member of the Phillies' bullpen for the last five seasons. He went 20-18 with a 3.72 ERA in 275 games (five starts), striking out 324 batters, while walking 125, in 259 innings.
Bastardo had his bouts of inconsistency, but in the last three seasons, only eight major league relievers (minimum 150 games) had a better strikeout rate than his 11.3 strikeouts-per-9 innings. Bastardo is due to become a free agent after the 2015 season.
"I want to thank Antonio," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said late yesterday afternoon. "He was a major contributor for many years when we were having success and he was really gracious when we talked to him. I want to wish him the best and hope it works out for him over in Pittsburgh."
With three others lefthanded relievers on the 40-man roster - Jake Diekman, Mario Hollands and Elvis Araujo - Bastardo was expendable. The Phillies flipped him for another lefthander who helps fill the team's drastic need for starting pitching in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Rodriguez, 23, is 22-31 with 4.02 ERA in 98 games (83 starts) in six seasons in the Pirates' minor league system. After a strong showing at Class A Bradenton in 2013 (4-3, 2.67 ERA in 12 starts), Rodriguez was 6-11 with a 4.84 ERA in 30 games (21 starts) at Double A Altoona in 2014.
But Rodriguez, who sports a fastball, slider and changeup, was considered a developing prospect on the rise by Pirates people.
"This is a guy who is growing and is getting better," Amaro said.
The 6-1, 200-pound native of the Dominican Republic went 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA earlier this offseason while pitching in the Arizona Fall League and had a 1.38 ERA after three games in the Dominican Winter League.
Rodriguez pitched under Phillies Triple A pitching coach Ray Burris in AFL play.
"Good kid," Amaro said. "Good makeup kid, which is also a part and an element here, but he's also really coming on as far as his velocity, his stuff. All of those elements you like to see in pitchers as they mature and develop."
Amaro said Rodriguez was clocked in the mid-90s this fall.
"His velocity is really starting to come, probably more consistently in the low 90s," Amaro said. "In the AFL, he was bringing it. More so I think he's just maturing as a pitcher. He's got some movement. He's got some deception. He's got some work to do yet in developing but I think he's probably slated to pitch in Triple A next year."
Given the dearth of near-major league-ready pitching on the farm, Rodriguez eventually could pitch his way into consideration for a big-league spot on the Phillies in 2015.
Aside from top prospects Aaron Nola, who was drafted only in June, and Jesse Biddle, who missed 6 weeks during a tumultuous 2014 when he needed a mental break, the Phillies have very little starting pitching above Class A. Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan are coming off surgeries in 2014.
At the major league level, the current rotation features Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee (limited by injury to 13 starts last season), Jerome Williams (who pitched for three big-league organizations in 2014) and David Buchanan (who has made all of 20 major league starts).