In a move that can only be categorized as stunning, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired closer Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets along with $5 million Tuesday. Milwaukee will send two PTBNL back in exchanged for the eccentric 29 year-old RHP.
While the bullpen has been taking a beating of late, the Brewers have a large variety of talent at their disposal. Kameron Loe leads the team with seven loses and a bunch of late inning mishaps, but all his numbers would suggest that would only turn around. After dealing with injury problems, Takashi Saito is finally healthy and ready to return to late inning duties, but is likely to move into a seventh inning role with this move.
The biggest motivator for the Mets in this trade was the $17.5 million option looming over them next year. That option would have automatically have kicked in if Rodriguez would have finished another 21 games for the Mets this season. Seeing as he was the teams closer, that is something that was very likely to happen. However, the trade doesn't take this part of his contract away. So, to recap, if K-Rod finishes another 21 games this season, the Brewers will automatically have his contract on the books in 2012. Easy solution to that is to relegate him to setup duties. A move the Brewers will almost certainly do. With Rodriguez manning setup duties, and John Axford closing, the Brewers have gone a long way in trying to limit the opponent's game to seven innings. There is no question how valuable a lock down back end of the bullpen can be (i.e. 2010 San Diego Padres).
The biggest concern for the Milwaukee Brewers heading forward lies at shortstop. They continue to give ample playing time to Yuniesky Betancourt who has responded to the tune of a first half WAR of -0.8. Surely, many fans could expect the Brewers to be active at the trade deadline, but obviously for a shortstop.
There are options available for the Brewers to explore at shortstop, but with the trade, this does close some doors. Obviously, trading for Rodriguez and the $5 million he's still owed this season (plus the $3.5 million buyout for next year), puts an already high Brewers payroll at the breaking point. The Brewers received $5 million in this trade, so essentially take on $3.5 million for Rodriguez and his services.
As of now, there is no way to tell if Doug Melvin further emptied an already razor thin minor league system. With the news of the Mets sending $5 million to the Brewers in this trade, I would assume they would expect some talent to be returned. However, Buster Olney is reporting the Mets made a straight salary dump here. If true, this becomes a very nice pickup at a decent price for the Brewers.
While his velocity may have dropped in past couple of years, Francisco Rodriguez is still a very good pitcher. This season, he is striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. He also possess a very good 52% groundball rate that should only help him at Miller Park. His FIP currently sits just south of his good 3.16 ERA.
Rodriguez will no doubt help an already good Milwaukee bullpen. But, if this acquisition means they have to stomach a bad shortstop for the remainder of the pennant race, the Brewers may have misfired here. Addressing flaws should be priority number one for a contending baseball team. The Brewers failed to address their top concern Tuesday night. While Rodriguez will certainly improve the club, the bullpen was not the problem. Shortstop will remain the biggest variable in the Brewers 2011 season as long as Yuniesky Betancourt continues to see extended playing time.