K-Rod for Closer

With news coming out yestertoday that all current Type A free agent relievers will now likely not require the signing team give up a first round pick, it has brought a whole new potential market for the Blue Jays to further explore. Even though the Jays were linked to free agent closers Jonathan Papelbon (before he was signed), Ryan Madson, and Heath Bell it was fairly clear they weren’t going to sign anyone of them if it meant giving up a first round pick. Because of this we saw them look at lesser options like Huston Street of the Rockies who would have been on a shorter term and probably would not have cost much in prospects due to the Rockies likely looking for some salary relief. Though now with the first round draft pick compensation likely being taken away for Type A free agent relievers with the signing of the new CBA it allows the Jays to look at options like Francisco RodriguezMatt Capps, and Francisco Cordero, who likely without this change in the CBA would get little to no serious consideration.

Of this group the one who looks to make the most sense is Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod started the season as the Mets closer in the last year of a 3 year $37 million contract and finished as the unhappy setup man for Canadian John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite his lowest save total since becoming a full time closer in 2005 for Los Angeles Angels, K-Rod’s peripheral stats were still very good in 2012. Rodriguez had a 2.64 ERA, 2.72 FIP, and 3.02 xFIP, which produced a 1.4  fWAR. All these numbers were put up despite a .321 BABIP, which is 46 points above his career average.
To go along with all those stats in 2011 K-Rod put up a career low walk rate at 3.27 BB/9 and a career high GB% at 51.8%. That relatively high GB% came along with a career low 31.5% FB%, which is a bit of a change of pace from the 49.7% that de facto closer Jon Rauch put up in 2011. Granted an infield that includes Brett Lawrie may have some issues, but if and when Blue Jays defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria makes it to the big leagues, it could be a big help. It seems like the only real concerns with Francisco Rodriguez and his 2011 season that have been cited are his close to career low 9.92 K/9 and his dipping velocity. From 2008-2010 K-Rod’s average fastball velocity was 92.0 mph, in 2010 it got down to 91.2 and in 2011 it went to 90.2.

I’m not going to go around and tell you that he’s a proven closer, so he can overcome that, and I acknowledge it is concerning that there has been a dip of 2 mph, but he did deal with it in 2011 and could very well do the same in the future. Granted if the velocity dips anymore it could become a problem, but it is likely not to be too much of a problem as long as the deal he is signed to isn’t a long term one. As well the dip in velocity could simply be a product of the thumb ligament injury that K-Rod incurred in the odd altercation that happened between him and the father of his girlfriend at the time as the injury happened with the thumb in his pitching hand.

Even after weighing out the pros and the cons of signing Francisco Rodriguez the eventual determiner of a K-Rod signing will be the dollars and the years. Obviously K-Rod is looking for a multi-year deal, but with the market what it is that may not be what happens. In their “Free Agent Stock Watch” series MLBTR suggested that K-Rod should get a deal around the ball park of like 1 year $9 million. Their reasoning for that estimation was essentially as a midway point between the average annual salaries that closers turned setup men Bobby Jenks and Rafael Soriano got in their respective deals last offseason. Though that deal seems pretty fair, there is a couple factors that could pull the average annual value down.

Firstly K-Rod might lower the average annual value in return for a second year, and in Anthopoulos’ case probably an option for a third year, or a one year deal with an option for a second year. Secondly as evidenced by his comments in December he obviously wasn’t happy being a set up man and will likely be looking for a job where he is the de facto and set in stone closer. Just as it did to Rasael Soriano, who eventually changed his mind, it decreases his options on the marketplace. Thirdly the free agent class that Rodriguez is in is fairly saturated and still includes options like Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Joe Nathan, and Jonathan Broxton, even after the signing of Jonathan Papelbon. Finally considering that at times Francisco Rodriguez can be considered to have “makeup issues” such as when he allegedly punched his girlfriend’s father, as well when he makes comments like, “I’m not fine, they told me I’d have the oppurtunity to close some games, and we’ve had 20-some save oppurtunities since then and I haven’t even had one.”

Suffice to say all of these things are not positives and just express the many reasons why the Blue Jays may be able to take a shot at him. Taking into account the fact that according to FanGraph’s dollars stat that describes the amount of money that the player should make on the free agent market has his value at $6.4 million in 2011, I’m thinking if I was AA I would offer K-Rod 2 year $7 million with an option for a second year and maybe guarantee the second year. He would be cemented as our closer, and he would at least be have an option for a second year. The fact that there really hasn’t been much buzz with Francisco Rodriguez makes me think that this could be a possibility. Besides would you rather give $6 million to a 37 year old Joe Nathan or an oft-injured Jonathan Broxton, or would you spring the extra million or two to go after a guy who has been a consistently good reliever for his whole career.