Fernando Rodney might be an interesting late-innings gamble for the Blue Jays’ bullpen in 2017
Fernando Rodney’s 2016 is a tale of two seasons. Playing for the Padres, he was lights-out with a 0.31 ERA and a K-BB% of an exceptional 19.3%. But after he was traded to the Marlins things went south, to the tune of a 5.89 ERA and a K-BB% of 9.2%. Rumour has it that the Marlins do not intend to exercise their 2017 option at $4.5 million, and are looking to trade Fernando (even for marginal return) to save the $400k buyout.
Which begs the question: would Rodney (one year, $4.5 million) be a fit as a late inning arm for the Blue Jays?
Clearly, Rodney comes with many positives. He has 261 career saves, and has closed games in 2015 and 2016. He has a 95 MPH fastball, which showed no signs of slowing in 2016, as well as an above-average changeup. And $4.5mil is not extortionate for a quality late inning arm.
But Rodney also comes with red flags. He will be 41 on opening day 2017 – an excellent age for a whisky, but not so much for a fireballing reliever. And his failings in Miami were largely due to a sudden decline in his control – he had a BB/9 of a painful 6.61 and a HR/9 of 1.23 (double his career average), albeit with an unlucky BABIP of .360. When he was pitching in Miami, the “something in the air that night” was too often the baseball.
So why would the Jays even consider him?
One possible source of inexpensive pitching options is players who have excelled in the past but have struggled more recently. Sometimes an exceptional catcher can help those pitchers regain their mojo. Think Jason Grilli in 2016: a 5.29 ERA with the Braves but a 3.64 with Toronto. Or Joaquin Benoit – 5.18 with the Mariners but 0.38 (!) with the Jays. Or even Francisco Liriano – 5.46 with the Pirates, but 2.92 with the Jays.
Russel Martin is an above-average pitch framer, which helps. But more importantly, he is exceptionally good at pitch-calling, recognizing which pitches will be called strikes and when. As for example, when asked about the high strike, Martin once said
"It’s at the top of the zone, you just rarely get those high strikes. You get them sometimes when they’re right down the middle. If that ball’s away or in, we’re not getting that call. It’s just right down the middle, and it looks good. The umpire is right there, it’s right in front of his face, and he didn’t feel like it was high. And I’m sure he’s judging it like, anything under his mask is probably going to be close to a strike."
So arguably, if Rodney is to regain value, Martin is exactly the kind of catcher he needs – one who not only knows the strike zone, and how it changes with different umpires and game situations, but also has the experience to recognize a pitcher’s limitations and to not ask the impossible.
The bottom line
Unless the Jays are willing to invest something on the order of 4/$70mil in a Chapman or Jansen (and forfeit a first round draft pick) they will need to take some intelligent gambles to strengthen their 2017 bullpen. Fernando Rodney might well be a risk worth taking.