The Braves traded veteran utility man Sean Rodriguez to the Pirates for first base-outfield prospect Connor Joe on a Saturday when the team’s youth movement hit full stride.
The team also called up left-handed pitching prospect Max Fried from Double-A, after calling up 20-year-old prospect Ozzie Albies on Tuesday and making him the starting second baseman.
They agreed to trade Rodriguez after the Pirates claimed him on waivers, the first of what could be at least two or three waiver trades for the Braves this month. The Braves save more than $7 million with the trade, including Rodriguez’s $5.75 million salary for 2018.
The non-waiver trade deadline was Monday, but teams can still trade players who clear waivers or trade them to a team that makes a waiver claim.
Jace Peterson was recalled from Triple-A to take Rodriguez’s roster spot for the time being.
Joe, 24, hit .240 with four triples, five homers, 30 RBIs and a .337 on-base percentage in 77 minor league games this season, including 74 at Double-A Altoona, splitting time between first base and right field.
A first-round draft pick in 2014, Joe has a .257 average with 68 extra-base hits (11 homers), 102 RBIs and a .352 OBP and .361 slugging percentage in just over 1,000 minor league plate appearances over parts of three seasons.
Rodriguez spent more than half of the season on the disabled list recovering from February shoulder surgery, returned far sooner than anyone expected, and hit .162 (6-for-47) with two homers, three RBIs, 19 strikeouts and a .326 OBP in 15 games for the Braves since he was activated July 17.
Rodriguez was injured along with his wife and their two sons in a Jan. 28 accident in Miami when a stolen police cruiser crashed into the SUV driven by Rodriguez, who sustained a torn rotator cuff and labrum and biceps damage, injuries that required what initially was viewed as potentially season-ending surgery.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect after seeing what that kid went through, seeing how he just worked and worked and worked and how dedicated he was,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “And the desire to get back on the field was unbelievable. Going through all that, and nursing his family back, too, he had a full plate. It’s pretty impressive. Says a lot about him, his makeup, his personality that he could do that.”
But with the emergence of rookie infielder Johan Camargo and the performance of infielder/outfielder Danny Santana who was acquired in a midseason trade, the Braves didn’t have a need or much room for Rodriguez, 32, particularly now that they’ve decided to go with more of their young players for the rest of the season.
The other big reason to make the deal: The Braves shed the rest of his salary this season plus the $5.75 million salary that Rodriguez will get in 2018 in the second year of the contract he signed in November.
Rodriguez returns to the Pirates, where he had a career-best season in 2016, playing seven different positions and setting career highs in batting average (.270), home runs (18), RBIs (56), OBP (.349), slugging percentage (.510) and games played (140).
The Braves signed him to a two-year, $11.5 million contract in November and planned for Rodriguez to start the season as their second baseman, then move him to a multi-position role when Albies reached the big leagues. But a Jan. 28 car accident changed those plans, and the Braves scrambled to trade for second baseman Brandon Phillips just before spring training.
Albies arrived last week, and Phillips has moved to third base for the time being, though the Braves also could trade him.