Three teams have “strong interest” in Fernando Rodney
All but one of the pitchers who spent the 2013 season as their teams’ closers know where they will be playing this year. The exception is Fernando Rodney, who appears certain to move on from the Rays—now that they’ve added Grant Balfour and Heath Bell—but does not yet know where free agency will take him.
The hard-throwing right-hander, who turns 37 on March 18, has secured only one multi-year deal to this point in his career: a two-year, $11 million contract that came back to bite the Angels before he moved on to Tampa Bay. Rodney earned $2 million in 2012 on a one-year pact with the Rays, who exercised a club option to retain him for $2.5 million last year.
According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Rodney’s agent, Bill Rego, has whittled down the market to three teams: the Mariners, Mets, and Orioles.
The Mets would seem to be an odd fit, since they have ninth-inning incumbent Bobby Parnell under control for two more years, but Parnell underwent neck surgery to repair a herniated disk on December 10. The 29-year-old expects to be ready for Opening Day and was fully cleared to resume baseball activities in late December, but general manager Sandy Alderson could use a veteran like Rodney for short-term insurance and then flip him at the trade deadline if the contract is cheap enough.
The Orioles, having traded Jim Johnson to the Athletics and nixed a two-year, $15 million agreement with Balfour over concerns about his physical, might be the most logical fit. Dan Duquette has money to burn, and reports have indicated that pitching is his primary target. Adding Maryland resident A.J. Burnett or another starter might be the top priority for the O’s, but if Duquette has $17 million available, that could still leave enough room in the budget for Rodney. As of today, manager Buck Showalter’s closer choices are Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Darren O’Day, and newcomer Ryan Webb.
Finally, the Mariners have infused a good deal of position-player talent into their roster by signing Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and acquiring Logan Morrison, but their only pitching pickup to this point is Scott Baker. Rodney would probably bump right-hander Danny Farquhar, whose 4.20 ERA in his first big-league year belied an excellent 1.89 FIP, back to setup work. If all goes well, first-year manager Lloyd McClendon would then boast a three-headed monster at the back of his bullpen, with those two joining fellow righty Yoervis Medina, who showed off a lethal curveball in his rookie campaign.
Before moving on, it’s worth noting that Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe believes that the Yankees could stealthily jump into the Rodney bidding. David Robertson is the presumed heir to Mariano Rivera’s ninth-inning role—in Sam Miller’s pick for the least interesting storyline of the spring—but he is set to reach free agency after the 2014 season. Depending on the terms, Rodney could give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility between April and October and eventually provide general manager Brian Cashman with leverage in extension talks with Robertson.
Stephen Drew to the Mets is a “long shot”
The Mets may sign Rodney, but if the club’s executives are being forthright, it looks like they will move forward with Ruben Tejada as their starting shortstop. Executives told Mike Puma and Ken Davidoff of the New York Post that agent Scott Boras’ asking price for Drew is too rich for the team’s blood.
Puma and Davidoff wrote that Boras is still seeking a three-year contract for Drew, who declined a qualifying offer from the Red Sox last fall. Drew could still return to Boston, in part because the Red Sox are the only team that would not need to surrender a draft pick to sign him, but the former Diamondback, who turns 31 in March, might struggle to wrest his previous job away from top prospect Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox could play Bogaerts at third base, leaving Drew in a quasi-timeshare with Will Middlebrooks, but they believe the 21-year-old can handle the more-challenging defensive assignment.
That’s where the Mets, in Boras’ ideal world, would come in. Drew could offer a substantial upgrade over Tejada, who fell out of favor with some members of the organization. He would also cost the Mets only their third-round selection, because the 10th-overall pick is protected and Alderson already coughed up his second-rounder to ink Curtis Granderson. Boras played the waiting game with Kyle Lohse last spring before the righty inked a three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers on March 25, and he is in no hurry with Drew or fellow draft-pick-saddled free agent Kendrys Morales.
Bronson Arroyo also down to three finalists
Much like Rodney, Bronson Arroyo has trimmed his list of suitors down to three. Nightengale tweeted on Wednesday that the Orioles are in on Arroyo, too, but in this case their competitors are the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. The D-backs are “slight favorites,” per Nightengale.
Arroyo, who turns 37 on February 24, recently lamented the lack of offers on his table to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, but it now appears that the situation isn’t nearly as dire as the right-hander seemed to suggest. The former Red was said to be looking for a three-year contract, a commitment that the Dodgers (and other interested clubs) were not willing to make, according to Cafardo. Assuming the Diamondbacks are likewise skittish about guaranteeing money to Arroyo through his age-39 season, their edge in negotiations is rooted either in annual salaries or Arroyo’s personal preference.
Rays shopping backup catcher Jose Lobaton
After re-signing Jose Molina and acquiring Ryan Hanigan from the Reds earlier this offseason, the Rays have three catchers for two roster spots. Jose Lobaton is the odd man out.
The 29-year-old handles the bat better than most backup catchers—and some starters, too. A switch-hitter, Lobaton posted a .274 True Average over 311 plate appearances in 2013, and he did his best work against right-handers, amassing a .294 TAv in 198 trips to the box. He showed off some thump in that sample, collecting 10 doubles and six home runs, and some patience, drawing 22 walks.
But Lobaton’s other skills lag behind his hitting: He isn’t as good at framing pitches as either Hanigan or Molina, and he doesn’t throw well. Lobaton nabbed only 10 of 73 would-be base-stealers in 2013, a 14 percent clip that was well below the league average (26 percent).
Nonetheless, the dearth of quality hitters behind the dish makes Lobaton—a Super Two player who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $950,000 paycheck for 2014—a valuable asset. Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin believes he could fit with around a half-dozen clubs, including the Diamondbacks, Indians, Mets, Nationals, Rockies, and White Sox.
The White Sox are the most intriguing team on that list, because their catcher plan appears to be throwing three players at a wall and hoping that one of them sticks. Tyler Flowers, Josh Phegley, and Rule Five selection Adrian Nieto will compete for playing time this spring, and general manager Rick Hahn said a couple of months ago that the White Sox are bullish about their internal options. But Phegley was held to a .195 TAv in his first taste of the majors, Flowers’ career mark stands at .226, and Nieto hasn’t played above High-A ball. If Hahn obtains Lobaton, he would immediately become the most accomplished hitter on the depth chart.