So has all our angst about the Detroit Tigers signing a closer for next season been wasted? According to the team's general manager, he might already be on the team. You might remember him from such ninth-inning meltdowns as walking in the game-winning run against Tampa Bay, serving up a game-tying meatball (on an 0-2 pitch) versus Oakland, or failing to retire a single batter at the Ballpark in Arlington.
He wears his hat cocked to the left. His name is Fernando Rodney. And Dave Dombrowski told Lynn Henning that he could be next year's closer.
From the Detroit News:
"If he throws the ball great, he can close -- if he throws strikes," Dombrowski said, before adding, making clear that "if" is the challenge for Rodney. "He'll be a free agent in a year (after the 2009 season)."
Don't undersell the point, Mr. Henning. That "if" is such a big "if" that it could become the new sign on the Comerica Park centerfield fountain if General Motors decides they can't sponsor it anymore. If that "if" was approaching Earth from outer space, NASA would be calling the White House, telling them we have a major problem.
Okay, maybe that's exaggerating a bit. Rodney did convert nine straight save opportunities this year. But he also blew six of them. That's not bad if you're, say, Francisco Rodriguez, had almost 70 opportunities and converted 62 of them. Rodney just had 19 save opportunities.
But when he's on, Rodney also has great stuff, the kind of stuff that makes you think, "Man, he could be the closer." He throws hard and can make hitters look silly with his change-up. Yet he also sometimes has control problems, which is particularly maddening. Rodney walked 30 batters in just 40.3 innings this season. Some of those difficulties occurred while he was coming back from shoulder tendonitis, but even when he could control his fastball later in the year, he didn't always pitch intelligently in key situations.
Dombrowski might be onto something, thinking that Rodney might want to do all he can to increase his value before hitting free agency. And maybe the Tigers will finally get that breakthrough year from him, as a result. But they sure as hell can't count on that, and Dombrowski knows that. Really, haven't they tried this enough already with Rodney?
I agree with Billfer that this is ultimately an attempt not to look desperate in dealings with the remaining available relievers. But c'mon, Dombrowski has said since the end of the season that the Tigers need a closer. Who is he kidding with this?