When it comes to signing free agent pitchers to fat contracts, I’m usually the first one screaming “NOOOO!” and imploring the signing team to put the pen down and run screaming in the other direction. Far too many poster children exist, since free agency was spawned in the mid-1970s, that are examples of why any franchise should shake in its cleats when it comes to luring the “big name” pitcher.
You’ve read the story, time and again. Big name pitcher signs fat contract with a new team. Then, said pitcher immediately either: a) gets hurt; b) goes down the toilet; c) gets hurt WHILE going down the toilet.
From Wayne Garland (1977 Indians) to Carl Pavano (2005 Yankees) and countless others in between, the free agent pitcher has been a risk that many teams have taken with disastrous results. For whatever reason, it almost seems as if free agent pitchers, once they sign with their new teams, simultaneously have voodoo dolls of themselves created, which are then pricked unmercifully by the baseball gods.
So call it desperation. Call it temporary insanity. But I’m here to tell you that the Tigers should take a serious look at free agent closer Frankie Rodriguez this winter.
Rodriguez, the Angels’ awesome closer, announced in July that he will file for free agency, testing the market. He’s 26 and the consensus is that he’ll fetch the richest contract ever awarded to a relief pitcher.
The Tigers have an astounding 23 blown saves this season. That’s almost too unbelievable to comprehend. If even HALF of those had been converted, the Tigers would be in the thick of the playoff race. I’m not even sure if that figure includes all the games in the 7th and 8th innings that the Tigers bullpen frittered away. If the 23 blown saves include just the ninth inning, then that’s even more amazing, when you think about it.
The bullpen, as a whole, has killed the Tigers in 2008. It was perceived as a weakness in the off-season and in spring training, but the feeling was that if it should be a glaring weakness, then GM Dave Dombrowski would make it all better with some sort of bodacious transaction. But, no such help has come from outside the organization. The Tigers, since defrocking Todd Jones as closer, has gone to that age-old “bullpen by committee” thing, and everyone knows that when you start doing things “by committee” in sports, it’s not a good sign. It means that you don’t have anyone.
Since no one has grabbed the closer’s role by the gonads, then I say throw some money at F-Rod and takes your chances. Don’t get me wrong; the idea does kind of make me jittery and maybe even a bit nauseous. It’s so not what I would usually recommend. But the Tigers have no other real solution for their bullpen troubles, at least none that are currently part of the organization. Perhaps a trade will happen, but are the Tigers likely to get a bona fide closer in a trade? You think these guys grow on trees? They’re more like precious gems — and teams are VERY unwilling to trade them. You have to break in and steal them — which is what free agency sort of allows.
The Tigers, for sure, are 64-68 for more reasons than just that their bullpen blows chunks. They have other issues. But one of those issues is age; lots of these guys aren’t getting any younger. How many more years can these players watch the bullpen toss games out the window? It becomes demoralizing after awhile.
I’m not 100% comfy with the notion, but I think it’s time for the Tigers to roll the dice and get into the Frankie Rodriguez sweepstakes this off-season.