The Brewers made their first splash in the trade market immediately after the closing of the All-Star Game, acquiring reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets along with cash considerations in exchange for two players to be named later. As of this writing, there is no official word on who the players are or the amount of the cash considerations. Due to MLB rules, the players to be named later won’t be 2011 draft picks — players can’t be traded, even as PTBNLs, until six months after they sign.
Rodriguez has had his issues of late, both with injuries and with his infamous fight with his girlfriend’s father. Despite the aura of negativity surrounding Rodriguez because of these actions, however, make no mistake: Rodriguez is still an effective MLB pitcher. Since the 2010 season, Rodriguez has an ERA of 2.60 and a 2.78 FIP. ZiPS projects him for similar success over the rest of the season: a 2.79 ERA and a 2.92 FIP.
Given that kind of performance, Rodriguez is effectively a lock to bolster the bullpen. After John Axford and Takashi Saito, there just aren’t pitchers in the Milwaukee bullpen capable of getting left-handed hitters out. Rodriguez is a touch worse against lefties for his career, but still effective (career FIP of 3.35) — something Kameron Loe, Tim Dillard, and LaTroy Hawkins, for example, can’t say.
The first real question for the Brewers is who closes now, Axford or Rodriguez. There hasn’t been any official word, but the language Doug Melvin used in the press release doesn’t suggest Rodriguez is in line to usurp Axford’s closer’s role. Melvin referred to Rodriguez as “a high-quality arm who will be a tremendous asset to our bullpen as we prepare for the final months of the regular season and playoffs.” Althought that quote doesn’t rule out the use of Rodriguez as closer, one would imagine that Melvin would clarify if he had indeed pulled off a trade to bring in a new, high-profile closer.
That, and Francisco Rodriguez has a vesting option if he finishes 21 more games this season. If the option vests, the Brewers will be on the hook for $17.5 million in 2011. That should be reason enough to keep Rodriguez away from the ninth inning.
The other real question, and the more important one, is if this trade inhibits the Brewers’ ability to trade for a shortstop. The answer? Unlikely. Cash shouldn’t be an issue for the Brewers, as the roughly $6 million Rodriguez is making this year leaves the Brewers’ payroll below $90 million, and the Brewers are receiving some cash to offset Rodriguez’s large contract. In terms of tradeable assets, chances are the two players to be named later aren’t players like Mat Gamel, Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, or the like — the kinds of players it would take to get a real, live, productive shortstop.
Overall, the trade bolsters the bullpen at what looks like a low risk. Rodriguez’s clubhouse issues could have an impact, but it’s extremely difficult to quantify and the Brewers clubhouse has been just fine this year with some extremely volatile players (see: Morgan, Nyjer). There was a clear need for a reliever who could get outs on both sides of the plate, and Doug Melvin has filled that need.