I was on vacation last week, but even from across the Atlantic Ocean, there was a palpable sense of frustration from the fanbase over the Detroit Tigers’ lack of activity this winter. The club did next to nothing during the Winter Meetings — who are these Rule 5 guys, again? — and have largely stayed quiet throughout the offseason. Their only major trade was (a) over a month ago, and (b) an underwhelming one. Not to mention, it left the club with a massive hole in center field.
Unfortunately, I can only offer more non-news. During the Winter Meetings, Tigers general manager Al Avila told reporters that closer Francisco Rodriguez would probably not be traded during the winter. Avila praised Rodriguez’s work in 2016, both on the field and in the clubhouse, as a major reason why he wanted the 33-year-old righthander back next season.
“We picked up his option for numerous reasons,” Avila said. “One, to be competitive. We still want to win. And knowing we weren’t going to be in the market for those other guys – not even close – he brought us the most affordable guy who saved a lot of games for us last year. He was one of the best.”
While this may be surprising at first glance — Rodriguez’s $6 million salary seems like an easy target for inching closer to the luxury tax threshold — Avila’s reasoning is sound. The Tigers only had to offer the Milwaukee Brewers a low-level second base prospect to acquire Rodriguez last offseason, and he’s a year older and closer to free agency now. His 3.24 ERA and 44 saves look nice on the back of a baseball card, but Rodriguez saw declines in his strikeout and walk rates. His velocity has been steadily declining as well, but held steady from 2015 to 2016.
The Tigers are better off holding onto Rodriguez for the start of 2017. While his peripherals took a slide backward last season, he was still an effective closer for most of last season. Plus, as Avila alluded to, Rodriguez is a relatively cheap option for the back of their bullpen. Most of our readers will scoff at the “proven closer” mentality, but if Rodriguez’s presence saved this front office from overpaying Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, then K-Rod is more than worth his weight in gold.
Avila also praised Rodriguez’s work with the younger pitchers on staff last season. We aren’t privy to what happened behind closed doors, but Bruce Rondon’s resurgence was a big reason why the Tigers outperformed their pythagorean expected record by three wins and stayed in the playoff hunt until the final weekend of the season. Avila mentioned pitchers like Joe Jimenez and Adam Ravenelle as players who could benefit from K-Rod’s tutelage in 2017.
Banking on Rodriguez to ward off Father Time for another season is somewhat risky, but could pay off in a couple of ways. If the Tigers are playing well, Rodriguez’s veteran savvy and deceptive arsenal could help them make a playoff push. If the club falters but Rodriguez is performing well, he could be a prime trade target in July, when reliever prices shoot through the roof.
Of course, anything could change on a moment’s notice. Other teams don’t seem too willing to overpay for the Tigers’ pricey talent, but desperation could creep in as the calendar turns to January. Rodriguez doesn’t seem like the most likely reliever to move — lefthander Justin Wilson is drawing interest left and right — but could be sent packing if the right deal comes along.