Imagine the playoff stretch of the 2018 season. Imagine the Rockies in a heated game with playoff implications. There’s traffic on the bases, and the bullpen is trying to preserve the lead. The Rockies call on their closer to clean up the mess. That closer is a veteran known for making things dramatic and raising the collective blood pressure of the front range.
The Rockies call upon Fernando Rodney.
Bear with me here. I know what you know about Rodney. I know that we have giggled together at the blown saves, at the self-imposed meltdowns where he walks one batter after another. I know we can’t trust him. And yet, as the Rockies consider options to fill the holes in the back of their bullpen, they should still take a look at Rodney.
In a recent breakdown of top free agents and where they might sign (subscription required), Bryan Grosnick of Baseball Prospectus predicts that the Rockies might sign Rodney. The 41-year-old (!) still might have some saves in that right arm, and presuming the Rockies don’t do something silly like signing Greg Holland to a long-term deal, they will be in the market for a cheap closer.
Why would Rodney come cheap? His age and his reputation. That reputation is earned, but it could also suppress his value this off-season. Even with a disastrous start to his season in which he lost the closer’s job for a time, Rodney ended up with 39 saves and 10.6 K/9 rate as the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017. For comparison, Greg Holland logged 40 saves and an 11 K/9 mark. Each had a rough stretch, though Rodney’s hurt his final line as he ended the season with a 4.23 ERA and 0.4 rWAR.
A look at Rodney’s track record before 2017 only confirms that scared feeling you have. He can be extremely inconsistent, and his lows are as low as it goes. Rodney managed 25 saves in 2016, but it was the tale of two seasons. He was stellar pitching for the San Diego Padres for the first part of the year, saving 17 games with a tiny 0.31 ERA. Rodney was then traded to the Miami Marlins and fell apart, saving only eight games with an ERA north of 6.00. Prior to that, his 2015 was pretty bad, but his 2014 was outstanding, as he recorded a career-high 48 saves as the closer for the Seattle Mariners.
Rodney is riskier than Holland, of course, but he will warrant a shorter, cheaper deal where the risk/reward tradeoff is appropriate for the Rockies and their payroll. Importantly, the Rockies should not sign Rodney strictly to be their closer.
The best scenario would be to add Rodney as one of a number of relatively low-risk options for the back of the bullpen. Those options should reflect a combination of internal options and off-season additions that come at the right cost. Presuming the market for Rodney is calm, the Rockies could reasonably look to add him to the mix along with Carlos Estevez, Antonio Senzatela, Adam Ottavino, and any other relievers they might sign.
Might Rodney be a disaster? Definitely! But at the right cost, that’s no problem for the Rockies. Ultimately that’s the point: all relievers are inconsistent and unpredictable. It feels like Rodney is a bigger risk because some of his failures have been so loud, but in reality he’s just as likely to thrive or flop as any other inconsistent but sometimes effective reliever.
If anything, 2017 showed that Rodney offers a higher upside as a closer when things do click. On the right deal, the Rockies won’t be overly invested in the mercurial veteran, and they can simply move on to another option if he doesn’t work out.
At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll say this again: the Rockies found outstanding value in Greg Holland as their closer in 2017. They should not follow that up by overpaying Holland for his twilight years; they should look for the next overlooked value(s) for their bullpen. That approach keeps the focus on the short-term, and with that focus, Rodney offers as good of a chance as anybody else to provide value and potentially a bunch of saves in 2018.
So what does Rodney do when he enters that imaginary game in the race to the 2018 playoffs? Maybe he coaxes a weak pop-up and gets the final out of the game. Maybe he melts down. Either way, he’d sure keep things interesting.