The Tigers signed Joel Hanrahan to a minor league contract last week, but Dave Dombrowski's comments suggest that he is still not comfortable with the shape of the club's bullpen. With question marks surrounding nearly every reliever in the system, a reliable arm would be a nice luxury to have. Those don't come around often when you're talking about relief pitchers, but veteran Francisco Rodriguez might be as close as we can get.
Should the Tigers look to add K-Rod to the mix?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
While it seems like Rodriguez is an ageless wonder at this point, he was only 32 years old in 2014. He made 69 appearances for the Milwaukee Brewers, racking up 44 saves in 49 chances. While his ERA and FIP were both higher than in 2013, K-Rod posted his lowest WHIP since 2003. That 0.99 WHIP was in his rookie season, just after Rodriguez had burst onto the scene with the Angels.
K-Rod became K-Rod during the 2002 postseason, when he allowed a 1.93 ERA while striking out 28 batters in 18 2/3 innings. A 1998 amateur free agent signing out of Venezuela, Rodriguez would go on to have a prolific career with the Angels. He racked up 208 saves in 241 chances while holding opponents to a 2.35 ERA and 2.84 FIP across seven seasons. He signed with the New York Mets after setting the single-season save record in 2008, then was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011. Rodriguez has re-signed with the Brewers in three consecutive offseasons, pausing only for a 22 inning stint with the Baltimore Orioles in 2013 after a midseason trade.
Why should we care?
He has lost a bit of juice off his fastball over the years, but Rodriguez still racks up his fair share of strikeouts. He has struck out over a batter per inning in every season of his career, and still fanned opposing hitters at a 27.2 percent clip in 2014. Righties? Lefties? Doesn't matter. He set them both down on strikes over 27 percent of the time in 2014, and has fanned lefties at a 28 percent rate throughout his career.
If anything, the toned-down velocity has forced Rodriguez to improve his command. His walk rate dipped to a career low 6.7 percent in 2014 after he had set another personal best the year prior. He has only walked 8.4 percent of the batters he has faced since 2010, well below his career rate of 10.1 percent. He only issued five walks to left-handed batters in 2014, resulting in a stellar 7.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties. His 4.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio against all hitters was the best of his career.
No matter how wild he has been, Rodriguez has always been a difficult pitcher for opposing hitters to square up. He has allowed a career batting average of just .203, with 624 hits allowed in 835 1/3 career innings. He has generally been stingy about giving up home runs as well, though he allowed a career-high 14 dingers in 2014. His ridiculous 23.3 home run per fly ball rate is not sustainable, meaning his 2.91 xFIP was more representative of his 2014 performance than his 4.50 FIP.
Why should we stay away?
Despite the solid strikeout numbers, declining fastball velocity is a concern. Just look at Joe Nathan. Rodriguez is still several years away from his 40s, but put a lot of strain on his arm throughout his career by throwing so many breaking balls in his early years. He isn't using the pitch as often as Al Alburquerque, for example, but at 30 percent or more, the pitches start to add up. Pitchers can be a ticking time bomb of sorts, and the soon-to-be 33 year old could go off any season now.
There is also the money. Last offseason, the Brewers were able to take advantage of the market by signing Rodriguez to a cheap one-year deal. This year, Rodriguez may cost more than twice his $3.25 million contract from 2014. MLB Trade Rumors projects a two year, $14 million contract for K-Rod, likely to a team in need of a closer or solid setup man. One could argue that the Tigers squarely fall into this mold, but the club seems poised to save money on the bullpen and sign another cheap arm or two.
Will he end up in Detroit?
There have not been many rumors around any of the big relievers on the free agent market, so it's tough to gauge whether the Tigers will eventually splurge on a top-end talent. They are reportedly out on David Robertson -- who has a draft pick tied to his name after declining his qualifying offer -- but this does not mean they won't spend elsewhere. Rodriguez could add stability to the pen, but I would expect a team with an open closer situation to have the upper hand when negotiating with him.