The Brewers’ payroll is set to crack the $100 million mark for the first time in franchise history this season. According to general manager Doug Melvin, that puts the team “way over” its budget. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel goes on to explain that bringing back Prince Fielder was never feasible—even on a short-term deal—because of the raises due to fellow position players Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Ryan Braun. But the more interesting implication here is Melvin’s apparent error in offering arbitration to Francisco Rodriguez.
As I wrote last week, GMs and agents overplaying their hand in the relief market has been a recurring theme this offseason. The K-Rod situation is just another example. Coming off a season during which he was worth only 0.7 WARP and saw his strikeout rate drop by nearly three percent, Rodriguez was nonetheless a Type-A free agent. The thought of picking up two draft picks proved too tempting for the Brewers to resist.
Unfortunately, in a free-agent landscape flooded with possible closers, many of them with better recent credentials than K-Rod’s 2011 effort, the arbitration offer proved to be the 30-year-old’s best option. Even though Rodriguez prefers ninth-inning duties to set-up work, he understood that returning to Milwaukee was a sound financial decision. After agreeing to a one-year deal worth $8 million to avoid arbitration—a salary just under what the superior Ryan Madson will get from the Reds—Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras, seem to have made the right choice.
Melvin’s decision to offer Rodriguez arbitration led directly to the Brewers’ current predicament. Paying $8 million to a set-up man is an unwise decision for any club, but particularly for one that with little wiggle room in its budget. And though hindsight is 20-20, if Melvin was, in fact, told to keep his payroll in the low-$90 million range, he had no business giving K-Rod an escape hatch from a team-friendly market.