Francisco Rodriguez Rumors

Brewers Exploring Pitching Upgrades

1:45pm: GM Doug Melvin tells Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio that his club hasn’t made a play for Shields and has not made a phone call to his camp. The team’s priority, according to Melvin, is upgrading the bullpen, where they’d like to add one or two pieces. Should the Brewers add a starter, it won’t be someone of Shields’ caliber, Melvin added (All Twitter links).

1:31pm: Following their trade of Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers are casting a wide net as they consider pitching upgrades, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Although all indications since the deal have pointed to the young Jimmy Nelson stepping into the rotation to fill Gallardo’s slot, Heyman lists James Shields as a potential candidate for Milwaukee. He also notes that Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are considerations for the Brewers, and trades are possible as well.

Looking at next year’s payroll (via Cot’s Contracts), the Brewers project to come in around $97MM (when factoring in league-minimum players needed to round out the roster). That’s lower than their 2014 Opening Day mark of ~$103.7MM, but it seems like they’d be hard-pressed to fit Shields without going well over that mark. Of course, a back-loaded deal could make sense, as about $45MM is coming off the books next winter with Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, Jonathan Broxton, Gerardo Parra and possibly Adam Lind all due for free agency (and they’ll be free of Gallardo’s commitment — of which they’re still paying $4MM — as well).

Among the club’s guaranteed contracts, only Ryan Braun is due for a substantial ($7MM) raise. And, as far as their arbitration eligible players are concerned, Jean Segura and Wily Peralta represent the only significant cases. Each will be arb-eligible for only the first time. It should also be noted that the Brewers have plenty of precedent for waiting out the starting pitching market, as they agreed to terms with Matt Garza one year ago tomorrow and also added Lohse in Spring Training of 2013.

Still, a Shields addition would likely require a record-setting payroll in Milwaukee, which does make it somewhat of a stretch to envision. Adding an arm like Rodriguez or Soriano to shore up the bullpen, however, would seem to be a much more plausible plan of attack for GM Doug Melvin. While Milwaukee did add a power arm in the Gallardo trade (Corey Knebel), there’s little experience and stability at the back of the relief corps.


Rangers Acquire Yovani Gallardo

The Rangers have acquired right-hander Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers. Going in return are a group of young players: infielder Luis Sardinas and righties Corey Knebel and Marcos Diplan. Milwaukee will pick up $4MM of Gallardo’s salary, which will rise from $13MM to $14MM by operation of a clause in his contract.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers

Gallardo brings plenty of value with him to a Rangers rotation that has several question marks coming off of a rough overall 2014. Though he’ll need to deliver all of it this season, as he qualifies for free agency after the year, Gallardo’s Texas roots could make him an extension candidate. He will not turn 29 until February. And he has had a nice run of gobbling up innings, lodging the sixth-most in the game over the last six years. Reuniting with his former pitching coach, Mike Maddux, probably does not hurt Gallardo’s outlook.

In terms of performance, Gallardo has had his ups and downs but is undoubtedly a quality arm. He registered a career-low 6.8 K/9 last year, though he posted career-bests with a 3.51 ERA and 2.5 BB/9. In terms of advanced statistics, the view was that 2014 was more of an average year for the veteran. His FIP (3.94), xFIP (3.64), and SIERA (3.78) were generally in line with his career norms.

For Milwaukee, the trade brings some much-needed young blood into the system and gave the team an opportunity to cash in on an expiring asset in Gallardo. While the trio of prospects that were acquired all come with questions, they also deliver talent and plenty of years of control, and should begin contributing in the immediate future.

Sardinas, 21, struggled in a 2014 season split between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors (posting a .281 average in the minors, but with a .302 OBP and .364 OBP), but he was young for all three levels and still rates as one of the Rangers’ better young players. The question remains whether Sardinas can hit enough to become a MLB starter, or whether he will instead top out as a utility infielder. But of the three players in the deal, he is the only one to crack Baseball America’s top-ten list, with Knebel (17) and Diplan (22) landing further down the line.

On the other hand, Knebel makes an appearance in the eighth slot on MLB.com’s latest ranking of the pre-trade Texas rotation. Knebel, who came to the Rangers along with Jake Thompson in last summer’s Joakim Soria deal, was taken 39th overall in the 2013 draft an reached the bigs in 2014. The 23-year-old is a pure reliever, but was fairly dominant in the upper minors (2.18 ERA, 12.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 4.6 H/9) in 45 1/3 frames last year and showed the ability to miss big league bats with 11 strikeouts in his brief 8 2/3 inning stint.

MLB.com also saw Diplan as one of the Rangers’ twenty best young players, albeit barely. An undersized righty, the 18-year-old nevertheless landed a $1.3MM bonus as a July 2 player. He was effective last year in the Dominican Summer League, but remains a good distance from a major league roster and is far and away the most volatile asset in this deal.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post theorizes a Gallardo trade could make Milwaukee players for James Shields, noting the Brewers are in a strong position to make a big play as they will shed $47MM in salary, including Gallardo’s $13MM, after 2015 (Twitter links). This line of thinking is strengthened by Milwaukee’s dearth of MLB rotation depth as Doug Melvin also traded swingman Marco Estrada in November for Adam Lind. Outside of their current projected rotation (Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, Matt Garza, Mike Fiers, and Jimmy Nelson), only three other pitchers on the Brewers’ 40-man roster have started a Major League game and two of them, Tyler Thornburg (elbow) and Johnny Hellweg (Tommy John surgery), missed most of 2014 with injuries. A third, Will Smith (17 starts with the Royals from 2012-13) is slated to resume his setup role in the bullpen.

This should make for an interesting week in Milwaukee as the Brewers gear up for their annual fan fest “On Deck” next weekend. It was this time one year ago, the Brewers signed Garza to the largest free agent contract (four years, $50MM) in franchise history. A deal for Shields would shatter that mark. The Brewers, however, could decide to invest the Gallardo cost savings into strengthening their bullpen by re-signing Francisco Rodriguez, who saved 44 games for the club last year. This approach would allow Milwaukee to stretch Smith out during Spring Training creating that much needed rotation depth while preserving some payroll flexibility.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi were first to report that a deal involving Gallardo to Texas was in the works. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first reported the return (via Twitter), while Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram added that money was also changing hands (via Twitter). SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo was first to tweet that the deal was done, and noted on Twitter that the Rangers were rumored to be closing in on adding a pitcher. Morosi reported the trade escalator in Gallardo’s contract, via Twitter.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Reactions To The Max Scherzer Deal

Here’s a roundup of early reactions to the news that the Nationals have agreed to sign Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal.

  • The Nats shouldn’t trade anyone from their loaded rotation, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports writes. Pitchers get hurt frequently, and the Nationals don’t need to deal a pitcher to fix a hole elsewhere — they’re strong all over the diamond and they have a good farm system.
  • Scott Boras has said he often negotiates huge deals with owners, not GMs, and it’s unclear whether Nationals owner Ted Lerner was involved in negotiating the Scherzer deal or how GM Mike Rizzo might now plan if he did, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. The Nationals have discussed trades involving Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg throughout the offseason, Rosenthal notes. Now that they’ve added Scherzer, though, they could just keep accumulating talent, perhaps adding another Boras client in Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano for their bullpen.
  • The Nationals might now be a “super-team,” Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs writes. The Nationals’ position players already projected for more WAR than any other NL team, and Scherzer’s signing will move them past the Dodgers for the most projected pitcher WAR as well.
  • The Red Sox can still use an ace and would be able to pay the high price necessary to acquire Zimmermann, Strasburg or Doug Fister, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. It would perhaps be more likely that the Red Sox would acquire Zimmermann or Fister, given that Strasburg has two years of control left and would therefore cost more in a trade.


Morosi On The Closer Market

The market for free agent relievers continues to develop slowly, writes Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Three free agents with over 20 saves last season remain available – Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Casey Janssen. Per Morosi, the Blue Jays, Indians, and Brewers are looking to add a late inning reliever. Obviously, other clubs could get involved at the right price.

Each of the three free agents come with performance concerns. Rodriguez, 33, was the best of the group with 44 saves. However, he’s allowed an above average rate of home runs in his last three seasons – all spent at homer friendly Miller Park. He’s a better fit for a pitcher friendly park, which may be why the Brewers have yet to re-engage his services.

Both Soriano and Janssen lost ninth inning privileges last season. Soriano, 35, actually had a solid season based on his peripherals, but a few costly, late season blow-ups led to Drew Storen taking over as closer. As a command and control pitcher, Janssen has always been an atypical closer.

The trio is unlikely to do much better than the two-year, $15MM deal Sergio Romo signed with the Giants. In some ways, Romo was better last year than any of the remaining free agents, and he’s younger too. Like Soriano and Janssen, Romo lost the closer role mid-season.

With Tyler Clippard moving to Oakland (presumably, GM Billy Beane won’t re-trade him before the season), the most obvious trade candidate is Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon. His contract is an additional impediment to a trade – he’s owed $13MM this season with a $13MM vesting option (48 games finished). While Morosi didn’t mention it, some clubs have reportedly expressed concern about Papelbon’s clubhouse presence. He missed the end of last season after an unusual crotch grabbing incident.


NL West Notes: Hamels, D’Backs, Rockies, Gee, Closers

The Padres are still involved in some chatter involving Phillies ace Cole Hamels, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Prior reports had indicated that a hypothetical deal could include recently-acquired, high-upside outfielder Wil Myers, but Heyman says that recently-discussed trade scenarios have been based around San Diego prospects. That being said, the report stresses that nothing is close and that other clubs are still involved. And, of course, GM A.J. Preller said recently that he does not expect any more truly significant deals.

More from the National League West:


Quick Hits: Nationals, Axford, Badenhop

Here’s the latest from around the league as the evening winds down.

  • With Ben Zobrist headed west to the Athletics, the Nationals are still trying to solve second base, writes Bill Ladson of MLB.com. Currently, there are five internal options. The most obvious are Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Espinosa has disappointed over the last two seasons while Rendon is expected to start at third base. Prospect Wilmer Difo has yet to play above A-ball, but he’s on the 40-man roster and possesses exciting tools. Other options include veterans Kevin Frandsen and Dan Uggla.
  • Free agent John Axford would like to compete for a closer gig, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. As it happens, the Blue Jays have yet to acquire a closer. Left-hander Brett Cecil is penciled into the role. At this point, no offers have been made to Axford, but several teams have shown interest including the Jays. After three consecutive rough seasons, Axford would likely have to earn any high leverage role.
  • The market for mid-tier, high leverage relievers has been slow to materialize, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford interviews righty reliever Burke Badenhop who is coming off a career season with a 2.29 ERA in over 70 innings. As Badenhop points out, teams don’t feel any pressure to make the first offer to free agents of his caliber. While five teams may be showing interest, they each know that any firm offer will get passed around to the others for bidding. Relievers like Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, and Rafael Soriano have to exercise patience as prospective buyers first gauge the trade market.

AL Notes: Twins, K-Rod, Aoki, Scherzer

Twins youngsters Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are still among the top prospects in the game, despite losing most of 2014 to injuries, writes Jim Callis of MLB.com. Buxton suffered a concussion and injuries to both wrists last season, while Sano missed the season after requiring Tommy John surgery. Callis doesn’t see a promotion for either prospect until next August or September since the pair have to make up for lost development time. Of course, considerations such as Super Two eligibility also come into play.

  • The Blue Jays have Francisco Rodriguez on their radar but still prefer to fill their ninth-inning void via trade rather than free agency, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Last week, Heyman reported that the Jays were prioritizing the closer position and looking at the trade market to fill the need. A few days later, MLBTR readers voted in favor of K-Rod when he was pitted against Rafael Soriano and Casey Janssen in a Free Agent Faceoff of the market’s top remaining closers. Of nearly 15,000 respondents, more than 39 percent preferred Rodriguez.
  • Earlier this morning, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reported that the Orioles are maintaining some level of interest in both Colby Rasmus and Ichiro Suzuki, and he now adds Nori Aoki‘s name to that list as well (Twitter link). Baltimore’s interest in Aoki has been previously reported to be limited, though that was earlier this month when the market had more options available. Scarcity in the outfield may have increased Aoki’s appeal.
  • While there’s been some speculation connecting the Red Sox and Max Scherzer, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford doesn’t believe that Boston will sign the ace right-hander. Bradford writes that the Sox have preferred Jon Lester to Scherzer from the start, and they clearly drew a firm line in the sand in regards to their negotiations with Lester. One source tells Bradford that he thinks connection to the Red Sox is simply a ploy by Scherzer and agent Scott Boras to pressure the Yankees into becoming aggressive with Scherzer.

Free Agent Faceoff: K-Rod vs. Soriano vs. Janssen

Among the remaining free agents on the open market, only three held down a ninth-inning job for a significant portion of the season: Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Casey Janssen. The trio is similar in that each has a history of pitching in the ninth inning, each is in his mid-30s and each succeeds despite lacking an overpowering heater. Let’s take a bit of a closer look at each.

Rodriguez’s relative youth may surprise some; he’ll turn 33 in January. It may feel like he should be in his upper 30s, but that comes with the territory when you cut your teeth as a 20-year-old in the midst of a World Series run. K-Rod’s ERA has been 3.04 or lower in four of the past five seasons (a 4.38 in 2012 being the lone exception), and it has, in fact, been 3.04 or better in all but two of his 13 big league seasons. fWAR was down on K-Rod quite a bit this season, as his FIP of 4.50 was rather pedestrian. However, that number doesn’t account for his eye-popping 23.3 percent homer-to-flyball ratio. Rodriguez’s career mark in that field is 9.9 percent, and even if he’s more homer-prone now (and the past three seasons suggest he might be), it can be reasonably expected for his HR/FB to drop by as much as 10 percentage points. xFIP normalizes HR/FB when projecting a 2.91 ERA for Rodriguez, and even if the true talent level is something a bit higher, Rodriguez would have value. He’s the youngest of the three relievers in question and also had the best ground-ball rate (43.9 percent) in 2014.

Soriano is the elder statesman of this group at the age of 35. He, too, has just one ERA blemish under his belt over the past five seasons — a 4.12 mark in an injury-shortened season with the 2011 Yankees. Over the past three seasons he has a 2.84 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Soriano throws the hardest of this bunch (91.5 mph average fastball in 2014) and was having far and away the best season of the group as of mid-August. Soriano’s ERA was under 2.00 entering play on Aug. 15, but he limped to the finish line, allowing 12 runs in 14 2/3 innings over his final 16 games. While that offers cause for concern, some clubs may just write it off as poor luck (he did have a .367 BABIP in that stretch).

Janssen, who turned 33 in September, was in the midst of a characteristically strong season when he caught a violent case of food poisoning. He reportedly lost eight pounds within a day’s time and was never fully recovered, which was a contributing factor to his 6.46 second-half ERA. Even when Janssen was healthy, his K/9 rate was down this season, however, and he does throw the slowest of this trio. However, Janssen has also shown the best command of this group in recent seasons, and he’s missed plenty of bats in previous years. Plus, his recent trials have come in the AL East, whereas Soriano and Rodriguez have both worked in the National League in recent years.

All three of these relievers could help a bullpen, but it doesn’t seem that all three will end up with a closer’s job. Clearly, this post is just a mere glimpse into each reliever’s profile, so feel free to do a bit more of your own research before answering…



AL Central Rumors: Williams, Rodriguez, Indians

The latest from the AL Central..

  • We learned earlier that the Blue Jays had interest in White Sox executive Kenny Williams, but the club did not grant Williams permission to interview. Chicago’s chairman Jerry Reindorf spoke about the decision, saying “this is not the right time,” reports Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.  He went on to say the club is focused on building a contender for 2015.
  • Francisco Rodriguez is among the many relievers that the White Sox are looking at, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).
  • Now that the Indians have added Brandon Moss, they will shift their focus to pitching, tweets Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Specifically, they’ll aim to add more starting pitcher depth. This is already a strength for the club, but as they say, you can never have enough pitching. Presently, veterans Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin are listed as the sixth and seventh starters.

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.