Blue Jays free agent target: Francisco Rodriguez
With the holidays approaching in a number of days, or already under way for some, the Toronto Blue Jays still have a few items left to mark off on their wishlist. The most glaring item is finding a new closer for the team, with that role hanging out their like a new pair of pants from Aunt Erma. It’s not the most wanted thin on the list, but you really need it anyway.
Of course, the Blue Jays have some internal options to assume the role should they not be able to staff it should they be unable to fill the spot externally, that of course would leave other holes. Taking Brett Cecil or Aaron Loup out of the 7th or 8th inning could prove more troublesome to fill given that they are more flexible as left-handed relievers to enter the game when needed, i.e. against a David Ortiz or other lefty late in the game.
That brings us back to the closer market. Now Alex Anthopoulos has said that he’d be willing to fill some holes in the bullpen using trades, as he’s seemingly unhappy with the prices being bandied about on the free agent market. One could assume that Anthopoulos was referring to previous targets in Andrew Miller, David Robertson, and Luke Gregerson, all of whom signed deals that are seemingly outrageous for relief arms. However, there are still likely some lower-risk contracts still available on the market.
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One such arm could be Francisco Rodriguez.
Rodriguez spent the 2014 season with the Milwaukee Brewers, pitching on a one-year deal in order to try and build his value back up. Making $3.25 million, K-Rod proceeded to save 44 games with the Brewers last season, posting a 3.04 ERA, a 0.985 WHIP, and a 9.7 K/9 ratio.
Additionally, his 69 appearances ranked 2nd behind only Trevor Rosenthal of the St. Louis Cardinals in terms of pitchers who also finished int he top 10 in saves, as did his 68 innings of work.
The reasons for the increased success for Rodriguez was the 43.9% GB rate he posted, the third highest of his career. That lead to a .216 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BaBIP), his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2003, and a LOB% of 93%, his highest full-season mark of his career.
SIERA also liked Rodriguez quite a bit, with his Skill Interective ERA coming in at a very nice 2.58. In context of the Blue Jays, Brett Cecil posted a 2.49 SIERA in 2014
While the initial numbers look great on paper, the advanced metrics are quite as friendly to Rodriguez. A 3.41 ERA isn’t spectacular by any means for a closer, but it looks much worse when you realize that his FIP was nearly a run and a half higher at 4.50.
Additionally, his FIP- (adjusted for Park Factor) was at 119, where 100 is the league average and the lower the score the better. Again using Cecil as a measuring stick, Brett posted a FIP- of 60 in 2014. Now that could be attributable to the fact that Rogers Centre was ranked ninth in terms of park factor (h/t ESPN) for runs (1.042) whereas Miller Park came in at 15th (1.002), but that’s a fairly drastic difference.
More troublesome potentially for the Toronto Blue Jays is a the fact that despite the sound ground-ball rate, Rodriguez surrendered a career-high 14 home runs in 2014, good for a 23.3% HR/FB ratio. Given how homer-friendly Rogers Centre can be, and Casey Janssen‘s struggles with keeping the ball in the yard last season, this may be cause for pause for the Blue Jays.
All and all, that lead to a fWAR of -0.6, basically putting Rodriguez at just below replacement level last season, despite the 44 saves.
The pickings are relatively slim, which gives Rodriguez a little more consideration here than he’d likely receive otherwise. With Rafael Soriano (expensive), Jason Grilli (best suited for set-up), and Brian Wilson (castaway) the only other available options, I’m not overly enamored here with any of them.
However, Steamer still projects Rodriguez to put forth a decent season in 2015, estimating that K-Rod will save 28 games with an ERA of 3.41, an FIP of 3.48, and an 8.77 K/9 ratio next season. Granted, those estimates are likely based on a return to Milwaukee, and a change to a team like Toronto may shift the numbers in both directions.
MLB Trade Rumors has Rodriguez pegged as getting a deal worth 2-years, $14 million. However, I’m skeptical that teams would see this trends and double-up his salary from last season, even with the high save total. Instead, I think his deal will be more like 2-years, $10 million with the chance to close being more important at this stage in his career.
If the deal floats in around that point, it could be worth the risk for the Blue Jays. It would be a modest increase for K-Rod, plus the added security of an additional season. However, I worry about the chance that Rodriguez could turn into another Francisco Cordero, where we’re paying someone to take him off our hands.
At this point in the winter, it may be worth the flyer, but Alex Anthopoulos may wait out the market a bit longer before succumbing to temptation here.