July 13, 2011
Transaction Analysis Blog
Brewers Acquire K-Rod UPDATED
The All-Star game had just ended and Prince Fielder had just stepped back onto the field to receive his MVP trophy as Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweeted that the Brewers were acquiring the Mets closer. It happened in a flash, and the immediate reaction was confusion. After all, the Brewers not only have a good closer, John Axford, in tow, but Axford has outpitched Rodriguez with a better earned run average and strikeout-to-walk ratio this season.
Whether Rodriguez becomes the Brew Crew’s closer is vital to this trade. Recently, Rodriguez suggested he would not waive his limited no-trade clause unless his new team allowed him to rack up the saves, but make no mistake: saves are not the metric important to Rodriguez anymore, and this is not about ego, just money. It's unknown what teams were on the no-trade list, but Rodriguez also hinted he could be persuaded to restructure his deal for, you guessed it, more money. The Mets made one mistake by giving Rodriguez a no-trade clause and another by giving him an option for the 2012 season that becomes guaranteed under three conditions: 1) Rodriguez recording 55 game finishes in 2011; 2) Rodriguez combined for 100 finishes in 2010 and 2011; and 3) team doctors giving him a clean bill of health after the 2011 season.
As it turns out, Rodriguez will meet the performance conditions should he hit the 55-finishes mark. With 34 finishes already under his belt this season, Rodriguez simply needs to finish a little under one-third of the Brewers 70 remaining games to get the payoff of $14 million—the difference between his $17.5 million salary next season and the $3.5 million buyout the Brewers would otherwise hold. That seems like a given, however, perhaps the Brewers are thinking their top three starters and collection of strong hitters can combine for some complete games and blowouts—not too many, just enough to avoid paying a one-inning reliever $14 million more than they have to.
Of course, it’s impossible to fully evaluate this deal without knowing how much cash is going to the Brewers and who the two players to be named later will become, but conventional wisdom suggests the Brewers should have spent their outgoing assets to fill their gaping shortstop hole. For now, though, it seems the Brewers have decided to upgrade their bullpen—and it should be an upgrade. Even if moving from Axford to Rodriguez in the ninth is a downgrade, remember that the cascading effect of moving Axford into a set-up role is that he can now enter in tough seventh and eighth inning jams, which should help the Brewers out in high-leverage situations that can otherwise change a game’s outcome.
You just wonder whether there is another reliever on the market available or who will come available that would have the same affect without the potential financial ramifications. Lest one appeal to authority, but for now, you have to trust the Brewers did their research, and with a scorched farm system, maybe this really was the best possible deal—just beware, sometimes no deal is better than the best possible deal. Whether that becomes the case here will be revealed soon enough.
Wednesday morning update: As it turns out, Milwaukee was not on Rodriguez's no-trade list, and the Mets will send over $5 million. That minimizes the risk on Milwaukee's end considerably, as the option is very unlikely to vest. Depending on who the players to be named later are (and keep in mind: they cannot have played in the National League this season), then it looks like a solid deal that helps Milwaukee push forward in a pennant chase.