K-Rod's revival could have him closing for a contender
While some prominent teams are looking for a closer, a prominent closer has re-emerged as a viable option.
Two division-leading teams, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox, are both in the market for one. Detroit has designated Jose Valverde for assignment. Valverde has been a league leader is saves three times, including two years ago for the Tigers, but his recent struggles date back to the second half of last season.
The Tigers have replaced him, for the moment at least, with Joaquin Benoit. He has been a highly successful setup man for the Tigers, but he has only 17 career saves.
The Red Sox are on their third closer of the season. Joel Hanrahan had to undergo Tommy John surgery. His successor, Andrew Bailey, was twice named to the AL All-Star team while a closer for the Oakland Athletics, but he has struggled in recent appearances, forcing the Sox to make a change.
The Sox have turned the closer role over to Koji Uehara, again a highly qualified setup man, but one with little North American experience as a closer.
In the potential sellers section of the closers department, we have the Milwaukee Brewers, with Francisco Rodriguez. Rodriguez, unwanted by all during the offseason after a truly substandard season in 2012, has staged a career revival. Over the weekend, he became the 25th closer to reach 300 saves.
The Brewers signed Rodriguez to a Minor League contract in April, then brought him up in May. After then-Milwaukee closer Jim Henderson went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, Rodriguez moved into the closer's role and succeeded.
Rodriguez no longer has a big fastball. His velocity has been in the low-90s. But his offspeed pitches have been crisp, and his command has been superb.
In 15 1/3 innings over 16 appearances, Rodriguez has an ERA of 0.59 and a WHIP of 0.72. He has given up three walks and eight hits while striking out 16. He is six-for-six in save situations.
His resume needs no further polishing. Rodriguez holds the single-season save record of 62, set in 2008 when he was closing for the Angels. He has complied considerable mileage, but at age 31, he doesn't have to be knocking on retirement's door.
Based on his recent performances, his next employer could have legitimate hopes that Rodriguez could once again be "K-Rod."
The Brewers, meanwhile, do not need to retain Rodriguez. They are 15 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central. Beyond that, they are 12 1/2 games out of third place in the NL Central.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has once again installed Henderson as the club's closer, using Rodriguez as the closer recently only after Henderson had pitched in three successive games.
Relief pitchers don't generally bring a tidal wave of talent in trades, but in this case, the Brewers would have enough leverage to at least get back one genuine pitching prospect for Rodriguez. And their farm system is in serious need of a talent upgrade in that area.
On the buyers' side of the equation, the Tigers or the Red Sox wouldn't have to view Rodriguez as a long-term closing answer to make this deal work for them. With a 2013 salary reported at slightly more than $2 million, Rodriguez would not represent a high-risk situation for a contending team. But he could be a high-reward acquisition for them over the remainder of the season.
The 2013 sample size is not particularly sizable in this case. But the available evidence strongly suggests that Francisco Rodriguez is once again close enough to being K-Rod that he could be the correct answer at closer for the Tigers or the Red Sox.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.