Just as the fanbase's hypersensitive patience was starting to wear thin, the Detroit Tigers fired their opening salvo of the 2015-16 offseason, trading for relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez on Wednesday. K-Rod, who has a long history of above-average (or better) production, looks to slide into the team's vacant closer role. Heading to Milwaukee is infield prospect Javier Betancourt, who projects at best to be a second-division starter, and not for two or three more years.
Both teams got what they needed out of this trade, but the deal is an easy win for a Tigers club looking to return to contention in 2016. Rodriguez will be paid below the market rate for two seasons, and his numbers over the past few seasons suggest that there is plenty left in the tank as he heads into his 15th MLB season.
What does the local media think, though? As you might expect, addressing the oft-maligned bullpen was met with plenty of praise. Matthew B. Mowery of the Oakland Press points out the pros and cons, but takes plenty of positives from the move.
While it certainly would be ideal for the Tigers to develop a lock-down ninth-inning presence, that’s probably not going to happen this year, which is why getting someone like Rodriguez was a priority.
The hope, though, is that the results with K-Rod will be better than they have been on the last couple tries.
Neil Weinberg of Old English D was equally impressed, especially considering how long it might be until Betancourt has any impact at the major league level.
Remember of course that acquiring K-Rod improves the team, but you aren’t comparing him to the current relievers, you’re comparing him to what you could have bought this winter with the money that’s now been allocated to his salary. So this trade saves the Tigers a few million and costs them a prospect who might be a fringe-average player in three years. A fine swap if you’re into grading the exchange.
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press was a bit helter-skelter in his review of the deal, but points out that perception is important when you consider how the Tigers finished off the 2015 season.
But this trade is about perception. And it's imperative that the Tigers win the perception battle this off-season. 2015 was a tumultuous season that found them in the uncustomary role of finishing last in the American League Central, becoming trade-deadline sellers and showing one of the best chief executives in the game, Dave Dombrowski, the door in a clumsily executed separation.
Even some of the national voices are impressed. FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan points out that Rodriguez has been able to adapt throughout his career by recognizing where his flaws are.
As the fastball has gotten worse, Rodriguez has moved away from it. As the breaking ball has gotten worse, Rodriguez has moved away from it. And as the changeup has gotten better, Rodriguez has favored it, and based on recent indications, it could stand to be thrown more often. Last year, by pitch values, Rodriguez’s fastball was at a career low. Meanwhile, his changeup was at a career high, at +18 runs above average. There’s noise in there, I know, but that’s an impressive figure for a one-inning reliever. Based on our leaderboards, only Greinke and Danny Salazar finished with a higher 2015 changeup run value. Rodriguez was ahead of Cole Hamels and Marco Estrada.
ESPN's Mark Simon agrees with that assessment.
But if we look at it on a per-100-pitches basis, Rodriguez's changeup moves to the top of the board of any pitch. In fact, among those pitchers who threw at least 40 innings and threw a pitch at least 10 percent of the time, no pitcher has a higher run value per 100 pitches than Rodriguez's 5.07 on his changeup.
Our friends at Brew Crew Ball praise the deal from their perspective, as ridding themselves from Rodriguez's contract -- not to mention any off-field baggage he brings to the clubhouse -- was a necessary move for a team looking to rebuild.
There's no denying that Francisco Rodriguez is a talented reliever. His results over his career prove that, and he has the potential to continue to close for several more years. However, with the Brewers facing a rebuild, a closer of that caliber was a luxury that they did not need anymore. With questions surrounding his character and the Brewers needing to build for two to three years down the road, it was time to move on from Rodriguez.
And, of course, Twitter had to weigh in with its own unique perspective.
Francisco Rodriguez is so old, when he came up with the Angels their manager was Mike Scioscia
— Matt Sussman (@suss2hyphens) November 18, 2015
If I hear "Francisco Rodriguez is washed up" one more time, I'm gonna sream. Dude had a 0.860 WHIP last year, 0.985 the year before.
— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) November 18, 2015
#Tigers making moves! Welcome to the D Francisco!
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) November 18, 2015
Francisco Rodriguez is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and these days he throws his fastball as hard as John Danks
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) November 18, 2015
Tigers should make the PTBNL Neftali Feliz
— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) November 18, 2015
And at least the Tigers are picking up a reliever that occasionally gets batters out.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 18, 2015
Something to chew on: Andrew Miller allowed an average 0.27 runs per game in 2015. K-Rod allowed 0.25, at about 1/2 the salary.
— HookSlide (@HookSlideBYB) November 18, 2015
Jonathan Papelbon is older than Francisco Rodriguez. I could've sworn Rodriguez was 41 by now.
— Ryan Hudson (@ry_hudson) November 18, 2015
This wasn't unanimous, though. The people unhappy with the trade? Betancourt's teammates.