On Tuesday, former Detroit Tigers’ closer Francisco Rodriguez made the mistake of offering up a set of self-centered and disingenuous comments to local media. Maybe Rodriguez broke the locker room code in a moment of foolish emotion. Or perhaps he’s actively angling to escape the rapidly sinking ship that is the Tigers’ 2017 season. Maybe he just really wants his job as closer back. Either way, a stellar career now seems fated to end in acrimony with the organization that gave him a chance to go out on top.
The recent rehabilitation of Rodriguez’ image unraveled in comments he made to the media before Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. As reported by Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, Rodriguez had the following to say about his current role and the Tigers’ coaching staff.
“They have to test me?” he said, incredulously. “They have to find out if I can pitch? That’s exactly what it means. I’ve never been in a mop-up situation. I haven’t pitched the last 15 years, being consistent, putting up numbers being mop-up. That’s not how I’ve made my living.
While a player as competitive and successful and Rodriguez often feels this way when they lose the trust of their coaching staff, they don’t often put it out there so publicly. And he wasn’t finished.
“You talk to Brad more than I have,” he said. “To be honest, no one talked to me. No one tells me anything. They never ask my opinion. They never ask me if I am ready to do that or not. It was their decision. Nobody asks me anything.
“Ask Dubee how many times he’s talked to me. They are the ones who have all the answers.”
Right there is when Rodriguez crossed the line from a veteran frustrated with his performance and wanting back in the thick of the fight, to a problem child lashing out. You simply don’t rip your coaches publicly that way. Particularly when Rodriguez’ own performance makes it perfectly clear why he’s in the spot he’s in. Even more damning is the fact that his own comments at the time of his demotion, and manager Brad Ausmus’ own rebuttal when asked about Rodriguez’ complaints, directly undercut his account.
When Ausmus promoted Justin Wilson to the closer role in early May, after back-to-back blown saves against the Oakland Athletics, Rodriguez wasn’t happy about it, but freely admitted he’d pitched terribly and cost his team wins. For his part, Ausmus has consistently expressed his hope that Rodriguez could turn things around and bolster another fairly thin Tigers’ bullpen.
In his comments to reporters after Tuesday night’s game, Ausmus emphasized the fact that after receiving a text about his situation from Rodriguez, that the two had a conversation in late May about his role in the bullpen. What did Rodriguez expect exactly? Weekly updates and goals to meet to earn the closer role back? Where’s the support for Justin Wilson, who hasn’t been able to run with the ball since earning the job over the first five weeks of the season? This is the definition of being a bad teammate, and it couldn’t be timed more poorly for the organization.
More importantly, you just don’t say this publicly, particularly about a manager who consistently carried your water until the situation became impossible in early May. You pitch better instead. Since his demotion, Rodriguez has a FIP of 6.11. A very respectable WHIP of 1.11 is dramatically undercut by a BABIP of .136 in that timespan.
Yes, he’s done a marginally better job producing damage free innings. But, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that he’s reasserted himself as the obvious choice as closer. A recent streak of 4 1⁄3 innings of scoreless relief work isn’t exactly a strong counterargument.
When Detroit Tigers’ General Manager Al Avila traded for Rodriguez during the 2015-2016 offseason, the move was met with a mixture of distaste and cautious approval. Certainly, the cost for one of the best relievers of all-time was low, and filled a dire need at the time. As a result, even many among the fanbase who found Rodriguez’ personal history too problematic to stomach could at least accept the utility of the trade. You know the drill. People can overlook a lot if you perform well for their team.
One would think that Rodriguez might have recognized at that point that his standing in the game wasn’t at all what it once was. Getting traded for the equivalent of peanuts in prospect terms should have been a signal that he was on his last legs. No other team with hopes of contending was out there vying for his services. And for most of his tenure with the Tigers, and despite his declining skills and struggles on the mound, Rodriguez has given the impression of a model citizen. With a few pointed comments, that impression now looks more show than substance.
The Tigers are in desperate shape right now, with, at most, six weeks to decide on the viability of the season. Had he kept his head down and his mouth shut, Rodriguez may well have re-inherited the closer role simply by virtue of possible trades of the Tigers’ best relief arms. Or he could have simply talked to Ausmus or pitching coach Rich Dubee himself. Communication is a two-way street, and quite simply, Rodriguez hasn’t given his coaches much to discuss in terms of his performance this season.
Instead, he picked the worst time possible to make the story about himself. The Tigers need every functioning reliever to try to salvage their season. But if the team’s fortunes don’t take a dramatic turn for the better, and Avila is forced to sell pieces to build for the future, they’d be well served to cut ties with a fading veteran having difficulty accepting that his best days are relegated to the past. One thing is certain, there will be some conversations now.