In Major League Baseball's post-All-Star-break horse race toward the playoffs, the Milwaukee Brewers became the first to make a big move on the outside, acquiring veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets for a pair of players to be named later.
In a move that would seem excessive for a team that already has an established closer, the Brewers bring in "K-Rod"'s 291 career saves and tout him as a backup plan for John Axford. Brewers GM Doug Melvin said, "In a pennant race, there's a chance you could go out and have six straight one-run ballgames. There's no way that any one guy can close six games in a row."
As a factor in the deal, Rodriguez's contract has been downplayed by his former employers in New York. K-Rod would receive a vesting option paying him $17.5 million next season by finishing 55 games over the course of the season. To this point in the season, he has finished 34.
Escaping that option is undoubtedly a benefit for the Mets as they face uncertain decisions over the futures of the rest of their nucleus. David Wright, Jose Reyes, and K-Rod faced rumors from the start of the season. Now, the Brewers have the clock running to influence their usage of Rodriguez.
That usage may turn out to be the most difficult juggling act not involving chainsaws or torches. K-Rod's new agent, Scott Boras, told New York's Newsday earlier this week, "Francisco Rodriguez is a historic closer. He’s not going anywhere to be a setup man.” Boras added, “Closers don’t make good setup men. Does anyone want an unhappy setup man in their clubhouse?"
Rodriguez has shown in the past that he can quickly make a situation ugly when he's unhappy. Last August, the Mets were pondering proceedings to void his contract when he assaulted his girlfriend's father in a Citi Field lounge.
The Brewers have to gauge their use of Rodriguez carefully, as his potentially historic 2012 salary would be an enormous drag on any attempt to keep Prince Fielder in next season's lineup.
No matter how the Brewers use him, K-Rod will need to weigh his words and actions just as carefully, especially if he runs out of games to close and faces the free agent market. The rehabilitation of his image would be aided immensely if he helps Milwaukee to the playoffs with only a handful of saves, being a good company man all the way.
Axford is 23-of-24 in save opportunities with a 1.99 ERA since blowing one on Opening Day, so anything that would upset his rhythm could easily backfire, even if the motive is based around getting him some extra rest.
The addition of K-Rod is certain to increase everyone's stress level, from Melvin to manager Ron Roenicke to all the players to the fan base. The one certain benefit is that the fans may have to make several more runs to the beer stands to take the edge off.
--Scott Henry (@4QuartersRadio)