January 05, 2012
Andrew Friedman may have done it again.
The Tampa Bay Rays general manager has shown an expert touch in putting together his bullpens over the years, bringing in castoff relievers on one-year deals. These older pitchers hope to earn another big contract in free agency, and end up giving the Rays tremendous value with their performances.
The latest reliever looking for a one-year revival in Tampa Bay? That would be Fernando Rodney, who just signed a $1.75 million deal. The contract includes a $2.5 million option for 2013, with a $250,000 buyout.
With that, he becomes the latest reclamation project for the Rays. Last season, Kyle Farnsworth rebounded to save 25 games for Tampa Bay after struggling for most of the past five seasons. Joel Peralta joined him as a setup man to give the Rays a surprisingly strong bullpen.
Prior to that, Rafael Soriano notched 45 saves for the Rays in 2010. He turned that performance into a three-year, $35 million deal with the Yankees. Also cashing in was Joaquin Benoit, who was one of the best setup relievers in baseball with a 1.34 ERA. He parlayed that into a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Waiting for prices to come down on free-agent relievers left on the market has helped Friedman find some bargains for his bullpen. But it's been a mutually beneficial arrangement for team and player.
Rodney is coming off a disappointing stint with the Los Angeles Angels, with whom he saved only 17 games in two seasons while earning $11 million. Mike Scioscia couldn't stand watching Rodney frequently walk batters (7.9 per nine innings) and eventually gave those important late innings to Jordan Walden. That prompted Rodney to request a trade in late September.
Yet Rodney has been successful as a closer before, saving 37 games for the Detroit Tigers in 2009. That's obviously the pitcher the Rays hope they'll be getting as he competes for the team's closer job with Farnsworth.
And if he doesn't beat out The Farns, Rodney has actually been better as a setup man during his career and should form an effective late-inning tandem with Peralta.
Rodney will also have to redeem himself with the Tampa Bay media corps, who still remember him chucking a baseball into the Tropicana Field press box after closing out a game in 2009. He was eventually suspended for three games, a penalty fueled by reporters complaining to MLB about dangerous flying objects shooting into the press box while working on deadline.
Making sure that bygones are bygones, Rodney apologized on Wednesday to the St. Pete Times' Marc Topkin. As chairman of the Tampa Bay chapter of the BBWAA, Topkin wrote a letter to MLB about the incident at the time, concerned mostly with the fact that Rodney showed no remorse for putting people in danger of getting hurt.
Smoothing over his baseball struggles will take more than a phone call. But the Rays are hopeful Rodney can take the proper steps to fix those problems, too. If so, Friedman will have worked circumstances in his favor yet again.