Francisco Rodriguez Rumors

Free Agent Profile: Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez is a late-inning fixture, having recorded at least two and as many as 62 saves every season since 2003, though he has had a somewhat odd run of late on the transactional side.

After earning big arbitration and free agent dollars, the star closer made the somewhat surprising decision to accept arbitration from the Brewers after the 2011 season rather than taking free agency (under the old Type A/Type B system). But an off 2012 season — 72 innings of 4.38 ERA ball, with 9.0 K/9 vs. 3.9 BB/9 — forced Rodriguez into a minor league deal. He responded with a bounceback campaign in 2013, throwing 46 2/3 frames and compiling a 2.70 ERA with 10.4 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. Nevertheless, perhaps hurt by the fact that he had less success down the stretch after being traded to the contending Orioles, Rodriguez again returned to Milwaukee on a make-good, one-year pact (this one promising him $3.25MM).

The market has seemingly gone from viewing Rodriguez as a premier reliever to treating him like a shell of his former self, an aging closer whose best days are long past. But that is not necessarily true, and K-Rod’s market may be due for some correction this time around.

Strengths/Pros

For one thing, Rodriguez is not nearly as old as his long MLB tenure might suggest. Entering his age-33 season in 2015, Rodriguez is more youthful than closers like Joe Nathan and Fernando Rodney, each of whom landed substantial two-year deals last offseason. And he is younger than some competitors on this year’s market, including Rafael Soriano, Casey Janssen, Jason Grilli, and Koji Uehara.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis CardinalsWhile Rodriguez may not be “old” by the closer market’s standards, he still has a lot of mileage on his arm. On the other hand, much of the reason for that is his remarkable durability: he has averaged 69 innings pitched per season dating back to 2003. Aside from an infamous off-field injury back in 2010 (and a more comical cactus maiming this spring), Rodriguez has a lengthy track record of health.

One could point to the fact that Rodriguez no longer strikes out batters at an elite clip, and that is no doubt true. But while his strikeout rate is down from his glory days (in particular, against league average), K-Rod has continued to earn his moniker by averaging an even 10.0 K/9 over the last two years. Even better, he has married that with excellent control, answering the primary critique of his earlier-career quality as a pitcher. Put it all together, and Rodriguez has set a personal record for full-season K/BB ratio successively in each of the last two years. (If you prefer K%-BB%, Rodriguez landed at 20.5%, solidly above average and 32nd among all qualified relievers.) A friendly BABIP even enabled him to post a career-low WHIP (.985) this past season.

For what it’s worth, Rodriguez also proved that he can still handle the ninth inning. After jumping unexpectedly into the closer’s role early this year, he logged 44 saves — his largest tally since that 62-save campaign in 2008 — while blowing only five.

Weaknesses/Cons

Rodriguez, unsurprisingly, no longer brings his fastball quite like he did in his youth, and his average velocity now sits at around 91. But he has never averaged above 93 in a full season, and never relied on the kind of pure speed that makes this a major concern. Rodriguez still registers excellent pitch values for his change-up, which, as Nick Ashbourne of Beyond the Box Score noted earlier this year, he has increasingly relied upon in lieu of his curve.

Rodriguez was victimized by the long ball this year, surrendering a career-worst 1.85 HR/9 and rather unsightly 23.3% HR/FB. He also benefited from a high strand-rate (93%) and low BABIP (.216). To some extent those statistics balance out when viewed together, as regression in both directions could be expected.

Personal

A native of Venezuela, Rodriguez first signed with the Angels back in 1998. He was playing in the states by the time he was 17, and reached the big leagues at age 20. Since then, Rodriguez has earned a somewhat fiery reputation, perhaps befitting his late-inning role. But on occasion, his anger has seemingly gotten the better of him. Rodriguez has had a few on-the-field spats that generated headlines. And more worryingly, he has twice been charged for his role in domestic physical altercations. (He pled guilty in the first case, while charges were dropped in the latter.)

Market

Rodriguez faces a lot of competition from veteran, late-inning relievers. As I recently explored, however, he is perhaps the only one who is truly on the upswing as he enters the free agent market. That does not mean that Rodriguez is the cream of the crop, of course – if nothing else, David Robertson and Andrew Miller are much younger and have more dominant recent track records – but it is something of a feather in his cap against most of the rest of the market.

As things have shaken out, he looks to be roughly on the same tier as Uehara, Soriano, and Sergio Romo amongst the next group of arms. (Names like Janssen, Pat Neshek, and Luke Gregerson are, perhaps, one tier behind.) It is possible to craft arguments preferring one of those to the other, and teams and personal circumstances will surely dictate the results, but Rodriguez surely rates much higher than might have been expected at the outset of the season.

The closer market as a whole seems to be somewhat wanting on the demand side: few big-budget contenders are in need of a new ninth-inning man. And on the whole, the rise of young flamethrowers could make teams somewhat hesitant to commit big dollars to relievers. On the other hand, Rodriguez has previously been willing to work in a set-up role. And proven success and durability still carries plenty of currency; he has been a relative rock in both respects.

Though it would be foolhardy to handicap possible landing spots for a sub-elite reliever, suffice to say that plenty of clubs could use an arm like his – though Rodriguez’s combative reputation may lead some decision-makers to take a pass. It is worth noting, too, that Rodriguez’s personal affinity to Milwaukee is strong and well-documented. He turned down MLB offers to take a minor league deal with the team in 2012, waited for and then jumped on the Brewers’ offer last year, and now says that he hopes to return. Of course, whether Milwaukee will pursue him with any vigor — after adding Jonathan Broxton and his hefty salary at the trade deadline — remains to be seen. But if the bidding is close, it seems plausible that K-Rod could take a discount to stay with the Brewers.

Expected Contract

Achieving multiple years has not been a problem for relievers much older than Rodriguez.  The overall trajectory of his play and, particularly, his excellent durability make Rodriguez a strong bet to land a two-year deal.  A discount (in terms of years or dollars) to stay in Milwaukee remains a plausible outcome, but if he seeks a full market payday, I expect the Scott Boras client to match Rodney’s contract last year and land a two-year, $14MM deal.


NL Central Notes: Weeks, K-Rod, Pirates, Polanco

Rickie Weeks doesn’t think that he’ll be back with the Brewers next season, he tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Weeks, who has an $11.5MM club option that won’t be exercised, didn’t request a final appearance with the team in the season’s last game. “I told the manager if the time permitted itself during the game to put me out there, OK. If not, so be it,” he said. “Life still goes on. It’s not like this is the end of all (things). I’m the type of person that I move on. That’s the way it is. I don’t think I’m going to be here next year. It’s just for me to go out there and move forward with my life.”

Some more NL Central items as the playoffs loom…

  • Francisco Rodriguez also spoke to Haudricourt about his future, and unlike Weeks, who seems resigned to being elsewhere, K-Rod hopes to return to the Brewers in 2015. “I definitely know where I want to be,” he said. “I want to be here. But it is not my decision.” As Haudricourt points out, Milwaukee’s trade for Jonathan Broxton and his $9MM salary next season could give Broxton the inside track for the closer’s gig and push K-Rod out of the picture. The team additionally saw a breakout performance from Jeremy Jeffress and expects to have Jim Henderson returning to health.
  • MLB.com’s Tom Singer spoke with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington about the team’s lack of an impact trade this summer in a recent Q&A. Huntington wasn’t sure whether it was more satisfying to get to the postseason on the back of some well-executed trades (such as last year’s acquisition of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau) or to get there by trusting his internal options. “This July 31 (non-waiver Trade Deadline) we wanted to, we were willing to, give up prospects as we did last August. We worked hard to find the right deal, large and small, and we couldn’t find the right impact coming in the door to match the impact that would’ve been going out the door.”
  • Huntington also touched on the timeline of Gregory Polanco‘s promotion to the Majors, noting that he wishes Neil Walker wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Had Walker remained healthy, Josh Harrison wouldn’t have had to shift to second base — a move that necessitated the promotion of Polanco, according to Huntington. “I hated [promoting Polanco]. I really did,” said Huntington. As the GM explained, the team thought Polanco was “borderline ready,” but he also stated: “There’s a reason why that Triple-A level exists, why most guys who have had success at the Major League level have experienced Triple-A beyond 250 at-bats.” Polanco got off to a blistering start in his first two weeks but has batted just .204/.275/.324 since and started just three games in September.

NL East Notes: Heaney, K-Rod, Mets, Taylor

The Marlins have scratched top prospect Andrew Heaney from tonight’s start, but Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald writes that fans shouldn’t read too much into the move. Marlins VP of player development Marty Scott tells Spencer that the move is just a precaution against having to shut Heaney down in September and isn’t related to a current call-up. Heaney himself told Darrell Williams of the New Orleans Advocate that he feels he’s ready to pitch in the Majors but doesn’t want to be called up as a fill-in, but rather to help the team win: They’re in first place,” said Heaney. “I don’t want them to bring me up as an experiment.”

Here’s more from the NL East…

  • Francisco Rodriguez told Newsday’s Marc Carig that he and the Mets exchanged numbers shortly before New York signed Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, and following those two moves, he made his decision to return to the Brewers (Twitter link). K-Rod, signed to be a setup man in Milwaukee, has instead turned back the clock with his best season in years, pitching to a 2.01 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 20 saves to this point as the team’s closer.
  • The Mets are “caught between the reality of needing patience and the desire to finally start winning again,” writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. Kepner spoke with Jon Niese, who said he’s not sure how Mets prospects such as Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero and Travis d’Arnaud deal with the pressure and expectations placed upon them by fans and media alike. Niese, who didn’t break out until his fifth season with the Mets, added that he’s thankful that the team gave him, Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell time to develop, but he’s not sure the newest wave will be afforded the same opportunity.
  • James Wagner of the Washington Post examines Nationals prospect Michael Taylor‘s breakout at Double-A Harrisburg. Taylor, not to be confused by the former Top 100 prospect of the same name, has worked with hitting coach Mark Harris to tweak his approach at the plate and is recognizing breaking pitches better and thriving at the plate. His strikeout rate is still a problem, but it dropped from April to May, and if he can continue that trend he could be on a fast track to Washington’s outfield.


Brewers Notes: Wang, K-Rod, Offseason

The injury-riddled Brewers may have suffered another knock today when Matt Garza was removed from today’s 9-3 loss to the Cardinals.  Garza suffered a bruised right thumb while batting in the top half of the fourth inning, and came out of the game after facing one batter in the bottom of the fourth.  With Ryan Braun, Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez and now Garza all facing nagging injuries and the bullpen piling up appearances, some roster moves may be in order for the Crew, as you’ll read in this edition of Brewers Notes…

  • Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang could be the odd man out if the club calls up a fresh bullpen arm, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.  Wang has a 15.00 ERA over six innings of work, and he made only his fourth appearance of the season in today’s game.  Manager Ron Roenicke hinted that his club wouldn’t put a player on the DL in order to call up a reliever, though that didn’t necessarily mean they were giving up on Wang.  The Brewers would have to offer Wang back to the Pirates for $25K if he isn’t on Milwaukee’s 25-man roster for the entire season.
  • Francisco Rodriguez always had a return to the Brewers on his mind when testing the free agent market last winter, the closer tells MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby.  “I had two or three offers before the Brewers, but I told my agent to wait and see what the Brewers decided to do,” Rodriguez said. “As soon as their offer came, I said, ‘I want to take it. It’s where I want to be.’ “
  • Despite today’s loss, the Brewers still have the best record in baseball at 20-8, and Grantland’s Jonah Keri examines how the club has rebounded from a poor 2013 thanks to better health and improvement in virtually all areas.  GM Doug Melvin cited the Brewers’ core of young talent getting a chance to play last season as a big reason why this year’s club has gotten off to such a strong start.

Brewers To Sign Francisco Rodriguez

The Brewers and right-hander Francisco Rodriguez are in agreement on a one-year, Major League contract, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported not long ago that the two sides were making significant progress on a deal, and MLB.com's Adam McCalvy added that they were discussing a Major League pact (Twitter link). Rodriguez, who is represented by Scott Boras, will earn $3.25MM with another $550K available via incentives, according to McCalvy.

This marks the third one-year deal that K-Rod has inked with the Brewers. Milwaukee originally acquired him (and cash) from the Mets in July of 2011 for a pair of players to be named later that turned out to be Danny Herrera and Adrian Rosario. Rodriguez inked a one-year deal with the Brew Crew that offseason and agreed to a one-year contract with Milwaukee again in April of last season, joining the club midway through the year.

While it's surprising to some, Rodriguez is entering just his age-32 season. The longtime Angels closer broke into the league as a 20-year-old in 2002, and he's pitched at least 46 2/3 innings in each season dating back to 2003.

Last year, Rodriguez was outstanding for manager Ron Roenicke, firing 24 2/3 innings of 1.09 ERA ball to go along with a 26-to-9 K:BB ratio. Rodriguez picked up 10 saves for the Brewers — including the 300th of his illustrious career — before being flipped to the Orioles in a deadline deal for infield prospect Nick Delmonico. Rodriguez would struggle a bit in Baltimore, pitching to a 4.50 ERA in 22 innings for the Birds. However, he maintained his strong K:BB numbers, whiffing 28 batters against just five walks. He didn't have the consistent 94-96 mph heat he had in his heyday, but Rodriguez still averaged 91.4 mph on his heater last season.

In 767 1/3 career innings, K-Rod has authored a 2.70 ERA with 304 saves, 10.9 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 for the Angels, Mets, Brewers and Orioles. His 304 saves are tied for 21st all-time, and he trails only Joe Nathan among active pitchers in that department.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin drew some ire from fans for his lack of activity on the free agent market, as just a few weeks ago, the Brewers were the only team in the Majors not to have signed a free agent to a Major League deal this offseason. Since that time he's added Matt Garza on a four-year, $50MM contract with a vesting/club fifth-year option and brought K-Rod back to solidify the bullpen.


Brewers, Francisco Rodriguez Making Significant Progress

The Brewers are making significant progress toward a reunion with right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter).

This post was originally published on Feb. 7.


NL Central Notes: Votto, Singh, Cards, Cubs, Yoon

Joey Votto is well known not only for his massive, ten-year contract, but also for being one of the game's most dedicated and thoughtful hitters. He is also known as a reserved presence, making his lengthy interview with Lance McAlister of Cincinnati's 700 WLW well worth a listen (hat tip to the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay.) Among other things, Votto dismissed the concept of lineup protection, but says that he did see noticeably better pitches when speedster Billy Hamilton got on base in front of him last year. His favorite stat? wRC+. Touching on roster construction and player evaluation, Votto said that he values all aspects of the game, and finds it is telling that both of last year's World Series contestants featured well-rounded rosters of well-rounded players. Here's more from the NL Central:

  • After missing all of 2013 due to arm injuries, Pirates prospect Rinku Singh tells MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom that he is working on his arm strength and still plans to reach the Major Leagues.  Singh, 25, famously won a pitching reality show in India in 2008 and subsequently signed a minor league deal with the Bucs.  The story of Singh (and Dinesh Patel, the reality show runner-up) will be told in the upcoming film Million Dollar Arm.
  • The Cardinals lost a number of notable relief arms and could be lacking some depth, Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes.  Gordon lists several minor leaguers who could emerge in Spring Training and be in the bullpen on Opening Day.
  • The Cubs are unlikely to participate in a "bidding war" for Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon, reports Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Though Chicago saw Yoon pitch along with multiple other teams, it sounds as if the club's interest is heavily conditioned on price. 
  • The Brewers are "kicking tires" on several free agent relievers, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Twitter links). Milwaukee is waiting for the asking prices to come down. Two names that Haudricourt wouldn't be surprised to see added are ex-Brewer Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Marmol, who is a good friend of Aramis Ramirez.

MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post


Perez, Baker, Rodriguez, Yoon Close To Deals

A series of significant, albeit not top-shelf, free agents could soon be coming off the board, according to a report from Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter links). Agent Scott Boras tells Morosi that he is "very close" to inking contracts for four of his clients: Oliver Perez, Jeff Baker, Francisco Rodriguez, and Suk-min Yoon.

Each of these names could represent an interesting opportunity to obtain a significant impact for a relatively limited investment. Rumors have been picking up steam of late on both Baker and Yoon. Baker, a 32-year-old lefty masher, has been said to be nearing a deal and could prove an important bench piece. The South Korean Yoon, meanwhile, has reportedly drawn a good bit of interest; Boras says that six or seven clubs are still involved. While he may not offer massive upside in the sense of becoming a dominating MLB pitcher, Yoon could end up delivering good value if he can stick at the back of a rotation, especially given his young age (27).

Then, there are the two enigmatic relivers: Perez and Rodriguez. Their long MLB tenures (each tasted the bigs at age 20) leave one surprised to learn of their relative youth (both are just 32). Despite flashes of brilliance as a starter, Perez utimately had to reinvent himself as a reliever. And after a stretch as one of the most dominating late-inning men in the game, Rodriguez was forced to settle for a minor league deal last season. Yet the numbers show that both offer very real upside. In the last two seasons, the southpaw Perez has thrown 82 2/3 innings of 3.16 ERA ball (with 10.7 K/9 against 3.9 BB/9). And Rodriguez registered a 2.70 ERA last year in 46 2/3 innings while striking out 10.4 per nine and walking a career-low 2.7 per nine. 


East Notes: Braves, Rays, Berry, Red Sox

With an unfavorable TV deal, the Braves are becoming the Rays, SB Nation's Grant Brisbee argues. That's a bit hyperbolic, as Brisbee acknowledges, but the Braves' payroll has fallen from third in the big leagues in 2000 to 16th in 2013, because their payroll hasn't really risen since then, while it has for most other teams. That's a trend that could continue, unless the Braves' new stadium dramatically changes their fortunes. That means they have to rely more on making smart moves than on spending money. Here's more from around the East divisions.

  • James Loney says the Rays, Brewers, Pirates and Astros all made him similar offers, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune tweets. "I felt [Tampa Bay] was going to be the best option and this is where I wanted to be," Loney says.
  • If the Rays keep David Price in 2014, they will have a higher payroll than they had in 2010, when it was $72.8MM, Mooney reports. That's not a sustainable figure in the long term, Rays GM Andrew Friedman says, but the team has a chance to be "great" in 2014 (Twitter links).
  • The Orioles are still interested in re-signing Francisco Rodriguez, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. The Orioles could then use him as a backup plan at closer in case Tommy Hunter struggles. Fernando Rodney might cost too much for them, Kubatko suggests.
  • Orioles executive Dan Duquette says newly-acquired outfielder Quintin Berry is a strong defensive outfielder and "he's shown good on-base capability, particularly against RH pitching," Kubatko tweets.
  • It's not likely the Red Sox will sign or trade a starting pitcher before the beginning of spring training, tweets Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes. Boston currently has a solid set of starting pitching options in Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront, plus Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and others. Lauber's tweet suggests the Red Sox will not attempt to trade someone like Lackey, and they will not sign Masahiro Tanaka.

Orioles Notes: Hendriks, Balfour, K-Rod

The Orioles' claim of Liam Hendriks today was, like many waiver claims, an acquisition made with depth in mind — Orioles executive Dan Duquette sees Hendriks as a possible spot starter, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets. But Duquette also likes Hendriks' control. Hendriks struggled in the Majors in 2013, but he walked only 1.4 batters per nine innings in 98 1/3 frames for Triple-A Rochester, and since he was only 24, Duquette is optimistic that he might be able to post strong control numbers in the big leagues. Here are more notes on the Orioles.

  • Hendriks' acquisition won't stop the Orioles from pursuing starting pitching. The O's continue to look for starters in both free agency and the trade market, Encina tweets. Baltimore has been connected to starters including Ubaldo Jimenez, Johan Santana and A.J. Burnett.
  • Don't expect a big move before Christmas, however — Duquette indicates that most teams will begin their holiday breaks after today (via MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko on Twitter).
  • The Grant Balfour "fiasco" could be an issue for the Orioles as they pursue free agents, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal writes. The O's backed out of their agreement with Balfour over concern regarding his medicals, a concern some other teams did not share. That wasn't the first time the Orioles had voided a deal for medical reasons, as Rosenthal describes. "This will factor into every competent agent's thought process going forward," an agent tells Rosenthal.
  • The Orioles do not seem to be interested in re-signing Francisco Rodriguez, Kubatko writes. Instead, they'll likely go with Tommy Hunter or free agent Fernando Rodney for their closer role.