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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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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.