Los Angeles Dodgers: Why They Must Trade for Francisco Rodriguez


Jun 1, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher

Francisco Rodriguez

(57) pitches in the 9th inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Brewers defeated the Phillies, 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline is looming, and this is the time of year when the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to open up their checkbooks, not to mention that their spending is starting to produce some wins. They’re second in baseball with a 21-9 record over their last 30 tries, and the National League West title is well within their grasp.

Perhaps GM Ned Colletti will try to add more weapons to an already dangerous roster. You should know by now that the Dodgers have money to spend. And lots of it. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a highly-coveted Cuban pitcher, could be the next to don Dodger blue. Peter Gammons of MLB.com reports that an offer in the range of five years, $50 million would get the deal done.

While Los Angeles works towards a deal with Gonzalez, they also have another guy in mind to solidifying their bullpen. Actually, a couple guys, all of whom currently reside in Milwaukee: Francisco Rodriguez, John Axford and Mike Gonzalez.

Danny Knobler reported the news on Monday, and as expected, the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers have also checked in with the trio of Brewers relievers. Both of those teams have a need for a reliever, specifically the Red Sox, who recently lost Andrew Bailey for the year.

Jul 14, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers closing pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (57) is congratulated by catcher Martin Maldonado (12) after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in the ninth inning at Chase Field. The Brewers defeated the Diamondbacks 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

But, the Dodgers, according to Knobler, have scouted Milwaukee relievers the “heaviest” over the past couple weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, Axford has some upside, especially considering that he’s given up a grand total of one run since May 15 (0.33 ERA). Gonzalez, meanwhile, has been fantastic of late, posting a 0.87 ERA in his last 13 appearances.

Rodriguez, though, would be the ideal fit for the Dodgers, and to boot, he would give them a considerable edge on the rest of the NL West.

Let’s get some of the facts out of the way first…

“K-Rod” is well-known through his days with the Los Angeles Angels when he was one of the best closers in baseball. From 2003 to 2008, he mustered a 2.38 ERA and 208 saves in exactly 446 innings. Those marks earned him three All-Star Game selections and three top five Cy Young award finishes.

Rodriguez’s prime has passed, and the Dodgers wouldn’t at all be getting the vintage “K-Rod.” It’d be hard to say that they would even be getting a glimpse of his old form.

Of course they know that, and so does, well, everyone else. If he was the K-Rod of old, he certainly wouldn’t have been looking for work until the Brewers re-signed him on April 17.

The ex-Angels closer still has value, however–more than you probably think.

Rodriguez has lost close to four miles per hour on his fastball since 2006, but he currently sports a 1.09 ERA and is a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities. Moreover, he’s striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings against 3.3 walks per nine.

A lot of Rodriguez’s success is due to an improved curveball that opponents are slugging a mere .182 against–it’s yielded just two singles over 85 pitches.

K-Rod’s Uncle Charlie has naturally lost some zip too. But as Brooks Baseball can confirm, the pitch has a lot of movement, the most of his career, in fact. So, he’s exchanged a few mph for more movement, which is indeed a fair trade.

Still, he’s not the vintage Francisco Rodriguez, and frankly, the Dodgers don’t need a vintage Francisco Rodriguez to win the NL West. They merely need a reliever with closing experience, and that’s precisely what Rodriguez can offer.

Jul 19, 2013; Washington, DC, USA;Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) throws during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Now, you might be saying, “the Dodgers don’t need a reliever because their bullpen has been solid lately.” You caught me there. I’m not going to tell you that LA’s ‘pen has been bad, because it hasn’t.

Over at FanGraphs, if you select the “last 30 days” option, the Dodgers have the eighth-best bullpen ERA in baseball (2.78). Even more recently, they have the second-best bullpen ERA in baseball over the last 14 days (0.57).

So, Los Angeles’ bullpen has been quite good, and they’ve followed the lead of Kenley Jansen, who officially took over as the Dodgers’ full-time closer on June 13. He has saved eight games in 10 chances on a 1.88 ERA since replacing a struggling Brandon League.

Among the other corps that have followed Jansen’s suit include Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez. Belisario, Howell and Rodriguez haven’t allowed an earned run in 30 days, while the youngsters, Withrow and Dominguez, boasts ERAs south of 2.80.

But let’s get back to that inexperienced point: Withrow is 24, Rodriguez is 22 and Dominguez is also 22. All three were called up to spill some youth on the Dodgers’ pen, and they have done that, plus more, as their numbers would indicate.

The question then comes to: Can they sustain their success once the league adjusts?

Well, only time will give the Dodgers a definite answer, like it would with anything else. I also warn you that we are dealing with short sample sizes. Withrow and Dominguez have combined to pitch only 17.2 innings. Rodriguez has a few more innings under his belt (34.2).

The thing is, acquiring K-Rod would assure that the back-end of the Dodgers bullpen is safe from daily collapses. It would push one of Los Angeles’ youngsters back to the minors–probably Withrow–for more fine-tuning. Adding Rodriguez would also allow Jansen to slide back down to the set-up role, where he’s been for the majority of his career. He has a career 1.88 ERA in 71.2 career eighth innings. It’s safe to say that he’s comfortable serving as a set-up man.

Trading for Rodriguez is precisely what you would call a short-term move, and that’s what the Dodgers new ownership group seems set on: winning now.

That isn’t to say that the Dodgers don’t have a bright future, mind you. But management pumped money into a product that is expected to win now, and rolling the dice on prospects is a bit too risky.

Francisco Rodriguez would give them some assurance and plenty of playoff experience (36.2 career playoff innings). He might also give them the NL West crown with the help of others, of course.