It’s been an excruciatingly slow trade deadline in Milwaukee. On Tuesday evening, though, the first domino tumbled when the Brewers announced they traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Baltimore Orioles for third base prospect Nicky Delmonico.
Rodriguez pitched tremendously for the Brewers this season, stepping into the closer’s role when Jim Henderson went down with a hamstring injury. The right-hander owns a 1.09 ERA through 24.2 innings this year with zero blown saves. He’s been essentially perfect out of the bullpen. Though he hasn’t been quite as good as his earned run average would suggest, his swinging-strike rate has rebounded a bit (thanks to a re-discovered changeup) and he’s throwing more pitches in the zone. He should serve as solid depth for the Baltimore Orioles in a set-up role, as long as he can keep the home runs under control.
To get a two-month rental for the back-end of their bullpen, though, the Orioles had to part with a valuable prospect. Baseball America ranked Nicky Delmonico the Orioles’ fourth-best prospect coming into the 2013 season and opined his “ceiling is a first-division corner infielder.”
The Orioles selected Delmonico in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft, but his talent level was more of a supplemental-round or second-round pick. He received a $1.525M signing bonus to pass on his college commitment to the University of Georgia and begin his professional career. For comparison, the Brewers signed right-hander Devin Williams for a $1.35M bonus — which was already overslot for the second-round pick.
In 263 plate appearances this year, Delmonico has hit .243/.350/.469 with 13 home runs and five stolen bases. His low batting average belies his overall skills at the plate. He reportedly possesses above-average plate discipline, which can be seen in his 13.7% walk rate, but it’s more than just walks. Scouting reports suggest he truly understands what he’s doing at the plate. He’s not helpless against breaking balls and currently has no platoon split whatsoever.
Two concerns (one more prominent than the other) exist with Delmonico:
(1) Defensive Position — Like many Brewers prospects over the last decade, Delmonico will rely on his bat to provide the majority of his value. The organization will try to develop him as a third baseman. Scouts tend to argue he’ll eventually move over to first base, which will place tremendous pressure on his bat to be special.
(2) Injury History — Delmonico has dealt with concussion issues in the past, and that’s nothing to brush away lightly. He missed almost a month in April and May with a concussion he suffered when sliding into second base. He then was struck in the helmet with a pitch last week, though it appears it didn’t result in anything serious. Furthermore, the young man only played 95 games last year with Class-A Delmarva.
Doug Melvin apparently inquired on the availability of Delmonico three weeks ago and was informed the 21-year-old was not an option. With the market heating up for K-Rod this week, however, the Orioles eventually caved and offered Delmonico for the Brewers’ closer. For those who wanted the organization to acquire pitching, Melvin said he and his team discussed that possibility, but ultimately decided to pursue the best player available — which was Delmonico:
“We talked about some pitching but Nick was a guy, when we pulled up our amateur report, we were really high on. We liked him as an amateur coming out of Tennessee. We were familiar with him. Garth Iorg was familiar with him from a character and a baseball standpoint. We had three scouts see him as recently as the last ten days.”
Just like the MLB Draft, acquiring the best overall player is paramount. Teams shouldn’t draft for need, and when attempting to restock the minor-league system with impact talent, teams shouldn’t prioritize trading for need. That’s obviously a different story when in a position to compete for the postseason, but the Brewers are certainly not worried about that at the moment.
Much of the attention is rightly on Delmonico’s future with the organization and what other potential moves the Brewers may cobble together in the upcoming week, but it’s important to underscore just how perfectly the organization handled Francisco Rodriguez this year. They inked him to a no-risk minor-league deal to help augment the back-end of their bullpen once John Axford struggled early this year, and they turned a no-cost (rental) asset into a guy who will likely be a top-five prospect in the organization. That’s tremendous.
Manager Ron Roenicke and the Brewers’ front office talked about giving Rodriguez an opportunity to reach the 300-save threshold. However, one has to wonder how much of that was merely lip service. How much of handing K-Rod the keys to the closer position was centered around showcasing him for the trade deadline? Perhaps it’s reading too much into the situation — and obviously the right-hander performed exceedingly well once in the position — but the decision to ride with an obvious trade piece over other obvious internal options makes one wonder how much Melvin intended on moving K-Rod for the past couple months.
The fact that Francisco Rodriguez performed this well was undoubtedly lucky. What the organization did to drive up his marketability this summer, though, was the epitome of deftly managing one’s assets. In the end, it resulted in a guy who may not be an elite prospect, but possesses a legitimate chance to be an everyday starter at the big-league level. That’s good business.