An experience it certainly was, watching Fernando Rodney close games for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season. There were games - hell, weeks and even months - where he was utterly dominant. But there were also games where no-one in the park seemed to have a clue where the ball was going. You could never be sure which Rodney you were going to get, when he trotted in from the bullpen, accompanied by the sound and the fury which was his entrance show. But what else would you expect from a player traded mid-season in both 2015 and 2016, who on both occasions had an ERA above 5.50 for one team, yet at or below 0.75 for the other?
Things didn’t exactly start well: Rodney came into a tied game on Opening Day, gave up a run, but vultured a W as the offense scored twice in the bottom half. That often seemed the way, Rodney struggling in non-save situations, though by the end of the year, his ERA there ended up lower than in saves. The overall figure was inflated by a number of spectacular meltdowns: five runs in two outs, or four without retiring a batter. Almost half his earned runs for the year came in just three outings with a 108 ERA, where he gave up 12 runs on 10 hits and 5 walks, getting only three outs. Across his other 58 appearances, Rodney allowed 14 ER in 54.1 innings, a 2.32 ERA.
Between May 26 and July 2, Fernando was literally unhittable. He tossed 10.2 hitless frames, striking out 16, including a “no-hitter” for the month of June. He was only the second pitcher in baseball history not to allow a single hit in a calendar month, while throwing at least nine innings (Edwar Ramirez of the Yankees, in July 2008 being the other). He ended the year with 39 saves, tied for fourth in the majors, in 45 chances, giving him a solid save rate of 86.7%. While the base salary was a very cheap $2.75 million, it was an incentive-laden deal and Rodney hit many of the targets, so earned up taking home about $1.5 million more.
Is he needed in 2018?
Well, the Diamondbacks will need somebody to close games next year, and hopefully that person will end up with close to 40 saves. However, Rodney will likely be in greater demand than supply. Even though he’ll turn 41 before Opening Day, I’m pretty sure some team will pay rather more than $4.25 million for his services. I do not think it will be the Diamondbacks, however: we seemed to see last winter that the team is (wisely, in my opinion) not interested in overpaying for the shiny save statistic. If the team does anything in this area, it’ll be like they did last year: sign a current non-closer (Rodney lost the spot in Miami, after being traded there) and give him the job.
Probably more likely, however, is the position being given to an internal candidate. Archie Bradley and Jimmie Sherfy are the leading candidates, though Jared Miller is a name we might also see in the big-leagues before the end of 2018. That will certainly be a topic worthy of further discussion this winter though. For the purposes here, I would likely put the odds of Rodney being a Diamondback next year, only at around 10% or so. It would likely involve him accepting a significant home-town discount; otherwise, he’ll be shooting his imaginary bow and arrow into the sky, above some other mound in 2018.
As noted, I would be extremely surprised to see the team going into the free-agent market and getting a current, “proven closer”. The market is relatively light on them this winter - though this also means there will not be as many teams with vacancies to fill. From what I can see, looks like the only players available to have reached double-digits in 2017 saves will be the Rockies’ Greg Holland and the Cubs’ Wade Davis [Craig Kimbrel is a possibility, but I would be amazed if the Red Sox do not exercise their $13 million team option on him] With both men having earned eight digit salaries this year, they’ll certainly be out of Arizona’s price bracket.
If we do go down the same road as last winter though, there are a number of potentially interesting candidates. MLB Trade Rumors had a good article, breaking down free-agent relievers by things like velocity, K rate, etc and that might give you some indication of possible candidates for the Diamondbacks. For example, taken from it are the top 10 free-agent relievers by strikeout percentage. While including both current closers mentioned above, perhaps the other eight are names to whom Mike Hazen might make an offer?
- Joe Smith: 33.0 K%, 11.8 K/9
- Jesse Chavez: 32.4 K%, 12.0 K/9
- Wade Davis: 32.1 K%, 11.9 K/9
- Boone Logan: 30.8 K%, 12.0 K/9
- Anthony Swarzak: 30.5 K%, 10.7 K/9
- Brandon Morrow: 30.1 K%, 10.6 K/9
- Greg Holland: 29.9 K%, 11.0 K/9
- Pat Neshek: 29.4 K%, 10.0 K/9
- Tommy Hunter: 28.7 K%, 10.0 K/9
- Bud Norris: 28.6 K%, 11.2 K/9