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Trade Deadline Recap: Brewers Acquire Rodriguez
It was no secret that the New York Mets were hoping to move Francisco Rodriguez prior to the Trade Deadline. When the team originally signed the closer after the 2008 season to a three year, $37 Million contract he was coming off of one of the more dominating seasons in MLB history by a relief pitcher. That season he appeared in a league high 76 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, pitching to a 2.24 ERA with 10.1 K/9 in a total of 68.1 innings while finishing third in Cy Young Award voting. Most notably, however, were the 62 saves – a new MLB record, besting the 57 saves recorded by Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen in 1990.
Since arriving in New York the success hasn’t quite been the same. He has appeared in 165 games over that time, pitching to a 3.05 ERA with 10.0 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, and 83 saves in a total of 168.0 innings. According to Baseball Reference, he was worth a total of 3.5 bWAR. His final season with the Angels alone was worth 3.2 bWAR. His strikeout per nine and walk per nine rates are right in line with his career marks, suggesting that he has largely been the same pitcher that he was earlier in his career.
However, the Mets – and their fans – have longed for the ability to move Rodriguez since early on in the contract. Rodriguez never seemed to fit in New York and despite consistent career numbers has long been cited as “under performing” because of the expectations laid upon him when he came to the team. It was his off field concerns that became just as big an issue, however. Late in the 2010 season the pitcher allegedly assaulting his girlfriend’s father inside a Citi Field tunnel which subsequently led to domestic abuse accusations and public legal trouble. There were numerous reports that offseason that the team tried to have the remainder of his contract voided at that time.
His contract had become an albatross in large part due to the vesting option that the team’s previous GM, Omar Minaya, had given the closer. Should he remain healthy through the end of the 2011 season and finish 55 games, an option would exercise for the 2012 season in which Rodriguez would receive $17.5 Million.
There’s no way the Mets – or any other team – would reasonably want to pay that price. For the Mets to move it, they’d need to be creative.
Rodriguez is owed just under $5 Million over the remainder of the 2011 season and a $3.5 Million buyout that must be paid if his 2012 option does not vest. As of mid July he had already finished 34 games and there had been no significant reasons for the team to replace him as closer. The team knew they wouldn’t be able to receive much in return unless they were willing to pay most of the remaining salary. So, they agreed on July 13th to cover half of his remaining salary for this season and the buyout for next in exchange for a pair of PTBNL (player to be named later) from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Sandy Alderson actually did well for himself just in his ability to get the team out from under the weight of the vesting option. They will have to pay a significant amount of money to Rodriguez while he tries to help the Brewers, not the Mets, reach the postseason. According to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, the Mets have a list of five pre-agreed upon players to choose from by September to complete the deal.
The Brewers took a gamble in acquiring Rodriguez for the stretch run. The risk, however, was less of a guaranteed concern given the fact that the Brewers had a good closer already in John Axford. Rodriguez wouldn’t have to close games, limiting his chances to finish 55 games on the season and limiting the chances that the option vests. The risk, of course, is that Axford could get hurt and Rodriguez will in turn be forced into the role.
Yet, as it turns out, none of those concerns will matter in the end. The next day word got out that the Brewers had reached an agreement with Rodriguez and his new agent, Scott Boras, which converted the vesting option into a mutual option – meaning both sides would need to agree. The Brewers were free to use him as they needed without concern and Rodriguez could simply pitch knowing he’ll be a free agent after the season.
The Mets won here by moving a player some perceived as immovable. They will pay most of that player’s remaining salary but avoided being locked into another year at an astronomical figure. The Brewers won here too. They strengthened their bullpen, didn’t give up any significant prospects, and negotiated away the financial risk by eliminating any chance the option is exercised.