On Sunday night, the Milwaukee Brewers fired their manager, Ron Roenicke, and all but publicly declared their intention to pack it in on the 2015 season, sell off what parts they can, and rebuild for 2016 and beyond. The Brewers rank 19th in the Baseball America 2015 Organizational Talent Rankings, so they could stand to trade away some of their veteran assets to help stock their prospect shelves.
Which brings me to the terrible Red Sox bullpen, and Francisco Rodriguez, or K-Rod. I believe Ben Cherington should trade for K-Rod as soon as possible.
First, let’s talk about the money. K-Rod is owed $3.5 million this year, $5.5 million for 2016, and has a team option for 2017 for $6 million. There is no way in the world that the Brewers want to pay $5.5 million next year for a 34 year old closer whose best years are behind him. Especially on a team that looks to be entering a tear down and rebuild. So he’s a great candidate to be traded to somebody this season, and his contract gives leverage to teams looking to acquire him to talk about second-tier prospects. Of course, we must then consider whether or not the Red Sox would be willing to acquire a currently 33 year-old closer who would be owed $5.5 million as a 34-year old. On first glance, it seems to fly against the strategy that Boston is employing in avoiding pitchers on the downside of their 31st birthdays. However, being 33/34 years old is a lot different from being 37/38 (or 40 like our current closer). If you look at the contract that Andrew Miller signed with the Yankees at $9 million a year, a closer with K-Rod’s track record for only $3.5 this year and $5.5 next year doesn’t look so bad. Finally, if the contract was any longer, or if the 2017 option was a player option instead of a team option, I think it would be a deal breaker. But being signed through only 2016 is short enough to take the risk of acquiring a 33 year old pitcher.
As I have said over and over again on this blog, from posts to live chats to podcasts, the Red Sox bullpen is a dumpster fire. To me, it is the single biggest weakness of the 2015 Red Sox. More so than the starting rotation. I understand the starting rotation has been shaky (being nice), but a stronger bullpen would have already held on to 3-4 more wins this season, and would have allowed for 3-4 more comeback opportunities if we could have kept the other team down after our starter departs. We have to improve the bullpen through promoting prospects and acquiring new arms, and do it soon, or 2015 will go the way of 2012 and 2014. Acquiring a relief pitcher past his prime might be against their philosophy heading into 2015, but how is that philosophy working out for us about now?
Let’s talk about how good K-Rod is at this point in his career. Or, maybe we should say “let’s talk about how much K-Rod has left in the tank”. I think it is understood that we are not going to get the 20-year-old fireballer who had 13.5 K/9 and 13 K/BB ratios in 8.2 IP in the 2002 World Series, which earned him the nickname “K-Rod” in the first place. We are not going to get the guy who finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting and 6th in the AL MVP voting in 2008 when he had 62 (!!) saves for the Angels. So who would we be getting?
brooksbaseball.net has the following to say about Rodriguez:
“In 2015, he has relied primarily on his Change (83mph), Fourseam Fastball (90mph) and Sinker (90mph), also mixing in a Curve (75mph).
Description of 2015 pitches compared to other RHP:
His change generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' changeups. His fourseam fastball is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' fourseamers, is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' fourseamers, has good "rising" action, has slightly below average velo and has slightly less natural movement than typical. His sinker generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers' sinkers, is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' sinkers, has less armside run than typical, has little sinking action compared to a true sinker and has slightly below average velo. His curve (take this with a grain of salt because he's only thrown 19 of them in 2015) is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' curves, has a sharp downward bite, has slight glove-side movement and has slightly below average velo.”
Take a look at the following chart from brooksbaseball.net that breaks down percentage of pitches thrown by pitch type from 2007-2015:
Year Fourseam Sinker Curve Change
2007 52.25 0.00 37.19 10.17
2008 50.25 0.84 32.49 16.41
2009 57.15 0.00 20.20 22.65
2010 50.89 9.25 22.29 17.46
2011 30.73 28.98 20.70 19.59
2012 33.82 26.63 19.12 20.26
2013 49.39 4.33 21.38 24.90
2014 24.25 30.81 15.64 29.31
2015 26.35 25.15 12.57 35.93
Back when he was a kid in the Angels bullpen, he threw his 4-seamer over 50% of the time. Now, he only throws it about once every four pitches. He has added the sinker to his repertoire over the years, and increased his reliance on his changeup. Both pitches are very effective. He has an old man pitch selection nowadays, but it is working for him.
K-Rod was an all-star just last year, saving 44 games in 49 chances to go along with a 0.99 WHIP and a 9.7 K/9 rate. He has followed that up with strong results so far in 2015, as he is 5 for 5 in save chances with a 10.8 K/9 rate.
One question that the Red Sox would have to ask of Rodriguez is if he would be willing to move out of a closer’s role and be a setup man. I do not envision the Red Sox moving Koji out of the closer’s role, but K-Rod would be a good backup option if Koji falters. I would find it hard to believe that Rodriguez would rather stay on what is currently the worst team in baseball just to stay in a closer’s role. I would think the opportunity to play on a team in the midst of a competitive AL East would be more attractive (although if the Sox don’t turn things around fast, maybe they won’t be competitive in the AL East for much longer). Unless the only motivation for Rodriguez at this point in his career is his place on the all-time saves list (he’s currently 10th all-time and needs 37 more to move into a tie with Dennis Eckersley for 6th place), I would think he would be okay with a role in the Red Sox bullpen.
There is one more part of the K-Rod story which the Red Sox will have to consider before trading for him. The Red Sox are arguably the most Public Relations-conscious franchise in Major League Baseball. From the NFL to Floyd Mayweather, domestic violence incidents with professional athletes have been getting a lot of negative press in the past year (and deservedly so). Francisco Rodriguez was arrested on domestic violence charges in September of 2012 for allegedly hitting and kicking the mother of his child. Charges were dropped when the woman and the eyewitness to the event returned to Venezuela. If the Red Sox were to acquire K-Rod, you can rest assured some Sox writer is going to dig up this story and play the “Red Sox are so desperate to not finish in last place again that they are sacrificing their morality” card. I wonder if the Sox brass has the testicular fortitude to withstand such a PR hit.
So who is K-Rod at this point in his career? He is a guy who has a Bush era fastball (88-92), mixes up four pitches, and still generates over a strikeout per inning. He has pitched in the playoffs and the World Series, he’s been an All-Star five times over, and he has 353 career saves. He is a guy who would no doubt help out the ailing Red Sox relief corps. He’s worthy of giving up a prospect at the end of the RSM Prospect Rankings (maybe a Ty Buttrey?) and maybe a no-name kid as well to go get.