Posted April 17, 2013

Brewers’ flier on K-Rod confirms concerns about Axford, bullpen

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers brought Francisco Rodriguez back into the fold with a minor-league deal Wednesday. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The Brewers brought Francisco Rodriguez back into the fold with a minor-league deal. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The Brewers re-signed Francisco Rodriguez on Wednesday to a minor-league deal that gives them 30 days to evaluate him for possible addition to the major-league roster. If the Brewers do not add Rodriguez by that deadline, he can opt out of the deal. This comes on the heels of the team’s early-season closer upheaval, which saw incumbent John Axford hit hard in each of his first four appearances amid concerns about decreased velocity, almost immediately yielding the role to 30-year-old sophomore Jim Henderson, who, it should be noted, is just ten months younger than Rodriguez.

Henderson has converted his only two save chances thus far this season, pitching well overall, allowing just one run in six one-inning appearances while striking out eight against no walks. Axford, meanwhile, threw scoreless seventh innings in his last two appearances, earning a hold in the latter on Tuesday, just the second Brewers win Axford has appeared in this season after the walk-off win on Opening Day necessitated by his own blown save. The Brewers’ eighth-inning reliever right now is veteran lefty Tom Gorzelanny (yet another pitcher born in 1982), who has allowed just one run and two hits, both singles, in 7 1/3 innings on the season on the heels of a strong performance as a long reliever for the Nationals last year.

For his part, Rodriguez did have a down season last year, including a late-July slump when he pitched himself out of a chance to usurp Axford as closer as quickly as Axford pitched himself out of the job this season, but it was far from a disaster, at least until he was arrested for domestic abuse in September. That arrest confirmed a pattern of violent behavior on Rodriguez’s part (though Rodriguez’s girlfriend ultimately dropped the charges). Combined with his $8 million salary in 2012, the mileage on his arm (708 career games, including the postseason, over ten-plus seasons), and that down year, which saw his walks and home runs increase slightly and his strikeouts drop slightly (though he still struck out a man per inning), he became an unwanted free agent this winter. A poor performance in Venezuela’s brief World Baseball Classic appearance didn’t help. Still, given Axford’s struggles, the complete lack of commitment involved, and the low cost of adding Rodriguez should they decide to do so, there’s very little risk here for Milwaukee.

There’s has been no official word, but CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that Rodriguez’s salary should he be added to the 25-man roster would be “$2M[illion] plus,” the plus likely representing incentives. That base salary of $2 million is more than a million below the major-league average. If Rodriguez struggles or has another off-field incident, he can be cut as easily as he was signed. Most likely when the other big ex-closer still on the market, Brian Wilson, is finally ready to sign following a season lost to Tommy John surgery, he’ll demand a much more significant and immediate commitment comparable to those of fellow Tommy John cases Joakim Soria (two-years, $8 million) and Ryan Madson (one-year, $3.5 million without the minor league trial period).

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