As of today, July 31st, los Tigres just swept their second straight series against two of the American League’s most competitive teams: the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros. The offense looked absolutely dynamic, clobbering dongs at a staggering rate. The starters looked great, as everyone from the resurgent Justin Verlander to the new-and-improved Matt Boyd tossed several strong innings each. Even the bullpen has looked pretty good, especially in situations where it would normally poop its pants.
And due to this win streak — which, again, is impressive — a lot of fans are talking themselves into postseason success for this club, even though a month ago there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. “Buy, buy!” they cry, hoping to further dilute a farm system that had been moderately replenished last year due to savvy trade deadline transactions.
To a degree, I’m okay if the Tigers acquire a 3rd, 4th, or 5th starter – IF the price is right (hopefully a Jake Odorizzi or Matt Shoemaker don’t bankrupt the minors). Otherwise, I’m still in Camp Sell, especially when it comes to the impending Unrestricted Free Agents, including-and-most-specifically the Tigers’ dominant closer, Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez.
Crazy? Perhaps, but there are two points that back up trading K-Rod.
- The Relief Market is Bananas
If you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks, you’ve missed teams paying through the nose to get quality relief options: Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller netted the Yankees four players each, Mark Melancon brought back two players, and even Zach Duke brought back a speedy young outfield prospect to the White Sox. And this is before some teams (San Franciso and Texas) have even fortified their bullpens (with 0.1 and -0.3 reliever WARs, respectively).
Rodriguez is currently sixth in the majors (and second in the AL) in saves, and has a lower BB/9 than top-10 closers David Robertson, Steve Cishek, AJ Ramos, and Jeurys Familia. He’s converted 29 of 31 save opportunities, and he’s played very well in the playoffs over a long and storied career. To top things off, the dude’s got a $6m team option for 2017, giving him that cheap control that teams desire.
He’s the “proven closer” some GMs lust over, and could even serve as a top-notch setup man if that’s how he best serves a team. K-Rod could command at least two noteworthy players in return – a major-league ready guy and a minor league prospect. In a time where the Tigers still need to further bulk up their farm system and inject youth into a rapidly-aging roster, flipping a hot commodity at the trade deadline can deliver a pretty damn good return.
2. The Tigers Don’t Even Need Him.
“But you just said how valuable Rodriguez is!” Yes, yes I did… in context to how another team would dole over a couple quality players for a guy who has that “Proven Closer” stigma dripping off of him. But if you break down the numbers on Rodriguez and the rest of the Tigers’ bullpen, you’ll see he’s not even the most valuable member there.
Y’see, Shane Greene has a higher WAR (0.8) than K-Rod, and Alex Wilson has the same WAR (0.6). But all three pale in comparison to the 1.6 WAR Justin Wilson is rocking, which places him 8th overall in THE ENTIRE MAJOR LEAGUES for relievers. His K/9 (10.85) is just over 2 Ks higher than Rodriguez’s (8.84), and his BB/9 (1.38) is just over a walk better than Rodriguez’s (2.63).
If that’s not enough to convince you, compare their FIP and xFIP, which measures a pitcher’s true ERA (excluding defense, and then again taking home park into consideration): K-Rod has a FIP of 3.43, and an xFIP of 3.32. Wilson, on the other hand, is rocking a FIP and xFIP that are currently on pace to set records for the Detroit Tigers organization – 1.60 and 2.20. That FIP ranks second overall in the majors for relievers.
I’ve been a proponent of Andrew Miller in the Tigers’ bullpen for just over three years, and his development has been nothing short of uncanny – he’s a power lefty who continually upped his K/9 while dropping his walks, and figured out a way to annihilate lefties AND righties. Honestly, and I’ve said this on ESPN 961 since the Tigers acquired Justin Wilson, I see a lot of Miller-esque qualities in Justin Wilson, and I believe that he’ll be the Tigers’ best closer since Willie Hernandez. His affordability, youth, and improving skillset should MORE than make up for the loss of Rodriguez.
So now we have until 4pm Monday afternoon to see what Avila does. Will he “stand pat” like he claimed , or was that just lip service? I have to believe he has enough sense to make the correct move by trading Rodriguez while the market is scalding, and I see him dealing K-Rod to Rangers for a couple nice pieces.