If it seems like Francisco Rodriguez has been around baseball forever, it's because he has. Rodriguez will be entering his 15th MLB season in 2016, in which he has a legitimate shot to jump to fourth place on the all-time saves list (he's currently seventh). Surprisingly, he is only 33 years old. The bespectacled righthander made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Angels as a 20-year-old, quickly bursting onto the scene during the team's run to their only world championship in 2002.
While landing Lucroy would be nice, he doesn't necessarily fit the budget or current plans of the Detroit Tigers. Rodriguez, on the other hand, could be a perfect fit. With $5.5 million due on his contract for 2016 and a $6 million team option for 2017, the team that lands him is getting a small discount on a proven closer whose numbers fit the part. In an otherwise bare market for relief pitching, making a trade for a solid arm might be in the cards for Detroit this winter.
Who is he?
K-Rod -- do people still call him that? -- was a sensation out of the bullpen for the Angels in his early career, bolstering their 2002 World Series run before taking the reins as the team's closer shortly after. He made his first All-Star team in 2004, striking out 123 batters in 84 innings while allowing a 1.82 ERA. Two more All-Star appearances with the Halos followed, including in 2008, when he set the single-season saves record with 62 in 69 opportunities. He led the league in saves three times, and finished in the top four of Cy Young voting on three separate occasions.
Rodriguez was relatively quiet over the next five years. He signed with the New York Mets prior to the 2009 season, where his save numbers dwindled. He posted a 3.19 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 315 2/3 innings from 2009 to 2013, when he pitched for both the Mets, Brewers, and Orioles. Rodriguez re-signed with the Brewers in 2014 on a one-year deal, then parlayed that into his current two-year contract when he made a fifth All-Star appearance. He added a sixth in 2015 when he held opponents to a 2.21 ERA in 57 innings.
Why should we care?
For as low as his demand has been in recent years, Rodriguez has been a remarkably consistent reliever throughout his career. He has just one year with an ERA above 4.00, and has logged at least 45 innings in each of the past 14 seasons (and only one below 55 innings pitched). He has tallied over a strikeout per inning every season of his career, and has actually lowered his walk rate over the past few seasons. He has been rock solid in the ninth inning as well, with just seven blown saves over the past two seasons.
Rodriguez was unfortunate to hit free agency at the wrong time last offseason. With fewer good relievers on the market this winter, the 33-year-old righthander could have cashed in on his "proven closer" status in a bigger way than he did last year. As such, his contract is somewhat of a bargain, and the 2017 team option gives his club more control than usual. It's not much, though; the buyout is $4 million. Still, that's better than the overpays that will be handed out to lesser arms this offseason (looking at you, Ryan Madson).
One of the more fascinating things about Rodriguez is how well he has adjusted to his natural abilities throughout his career. Once a power pitcher who could hit the high 90s with a wipeout slider, Rodriguez now barely scrapes 90 miles per hour with his fastball. No matter, though. He has racked up 135 strikeouts in 125 innings over the past two seasons, and generated an excellent 24.9 percent swinging strike rate with his changeup last season. Both righties and lefties had an OPS under .560 against him last year, and his 5.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio was a career-high.
Why should we stay away?
Aside from the obvious "Milwaukee asks for the moon" caveat, the only real red flag surrounding Rodriguez is the mysterious lack of demand for his services over the past few seasons. He struggled in 2012 and down the stretch with the Orioles in 2013, so his one-year deal in 2014 makes sense. However, after a strong season as the Brewers' closer -- during a surprise near-playoff run, to boot -- Rodriguez did not re-sign until February 26, and his contract was rather underwhelming for a Scott Boras client. Boras himself could be the reason for teams wavering, but with how fickle relief arms can be, it's curious to see teams passing on one of the few consistent ones.
Will he end up in Detroit?
If any team is going to make an offseason trade to address their bullpen, it's probably... well, ok, it's the San Diego Padres because A.J. Preller got bored. But after that, it's probably the Tigers. General manager Al Avila has said all the right things about developing a good bullpen, but it's going to take more than homegrown talent to fix a unit that was among the very worst in the American League in just about every meaningful category.
There aren't many solid options available on the free agent market, and giving up an average prospect sounds better than overpaying for someone like Joakim Soria, who left many Tigers fans rather unimpressed after a month-long battle with the yips in 2015. Rodriguez's contract is manageable, and he's young enough to not implode in their face over the next two years.