PHOENIX -- The trade of star closer Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets to the Brewers works well for both teams. The Brewers added a proven closer who's amassed nearly 300 saves before age 30, while the Mets ridded themselves of the vesting option that hung over them like a noose.
The Brewers look like the bigger winner for now, though, as they badly needed bullpen depth in the tight NL Central and did just that by acquiring Rodriguez plus cash ($5 million, which covers about half K-Rod's remaining 2011 salary and the buyout for 2012 on the vesting option, which is $17.5 million for next year if he finishes 55 games this season). But the Brewers also may have bought themselves a bit of an unwanted issue. They already have a talented closer in John Axford, who has 23 saves and a 2.83 ERA,so they could wind up with a closer controversy.
While they're unlikely to immediately remove Axford from that role, and K-Rod's vesting option provides ample incentive to stick with Axford at the end, Rodriguez's position now is that he wants to stay as a closer. "He's a closer, he's one of the game's best closers,'' Rodriguez's new agent, Scott Boras, said before the trade to Milwaukee was consummated. "And he wants to remain a closer.''
Brewers GM Doug Melvin made the trade before checking with K-Rod, but Boras and Melvin spoke about the subject shortly after the trade. Boras made the case that K-Rod should close, suggesting he wouldn't do nearly as well setting up, while Melvin apparently made no commitment, suggesting only that things "will work out,'' or words to that effect.
This is something the Brewers may need to work on to make it work out. Because while K-Rod has behaved impeccably all year, he has a bit of a reputation, and a player close to him said, "You don't want him unhappy.''
For today though, the Brewers are thrilled. Club owner Mark Attanasio burnished his reputation as a small-market owner with big-time moxie and a ready pocketbook. The Brewers under Attanasio have created a serious buzz in a town that's loving its baseball, and this move may at least temporarily stamp Milwaukee, currently tied for first with St. Louis with Pittsburgh one game back, as the favorite in the division. This isn't as big as CC Sabathia coming to Brew town in 2008, but it solves an immediate need for a reliable back-end reliever. Aside from Axford, a couple members of the Brewers bullpen, like Marco Estrada (2-6, 4.71 ERA) and Kameron Loe (3-7, 4.50), have struggled.
The Brewers depleted their farm system to turn an ordinary rotation into a potentially excellent one with offseason trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, so they needed to use financial heft (a phrase not normally associated with Milwaukee) to get the reliever they needed. The trade market looks like it will become stocked with relievers, but the Brewers would have had trouble matching prospects with the Cardinals, Rangers, Phillies, Yankees or any of the teams looking for relief.
"There's not much in their farm system so they had no chance to get most of the others,'' one rival GM noted.
The Brewers players are starting to feel they might have something special going in what is very likely All-Star MVP Prince Fielder's last year there. "It's great news,'' Brewers All-Star second baseman Rickie Weeks said of the K-Rod trade. "We're trying to bring a championship to Milwaukee.''
Similar excitement was surely heard in Mets offices, though they may temper it a bit. The Mets were determined not to have to deal with K-Rod's vesting option -- which one rival GM termed "scary.'' The Mets will receive two players to be named later in the deal. But the key was ridding themselves of an albatross of an option.
As one rival executive put it, "They were desperate.''
The Mets may actually have a decent in-house replacement for K-Rod in Bobby Parnell, a flamethrower who threw seven consecutive pitches of at least 100 mph in a game earlier this year. So this is not the "white flag'' type trade it would be if All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes were dealt. The biggest downside for the Mets may be the public-relations hit they take for trading their proven closer while a game over .500 and still technically on the periphery of the pennant race, at 7 ½ games behind the wild-card-leading Braves.
But the Mets just didn't want to take a chance of being stuck with K-Rod at $17.5 million next year. (He has already finished 34 games and needs just 21 more for the option to kick in.) It appears K-Rod's hiring of Boras, which happened only the day before, may have had an impact in this case. It's certainly curious how quickly they traded K-Rod. Boras' presence changed the game a bit, as the agent immediately seemed to set a new course, saying Rodriguez wouldn't be happy to be traded to a team where he'd be a set-up man, in opposition to K-Rod's previous public pronouncements. So the Mets have been concerned some teams would become scared.
One rival said he believed the Mets "took the first deal that came along.'' Though considering the glut of relievers headed to the market, that may not be the worst decision in the end.
The Mets are intent on lowering their payroll significantly next year -- though GM Sandy Alderson has said he didn't believe it would be cut all the way down to $100 million from $140 million, as team owner Fred Wilpon suggested in the infamous New Yorker article -- and so they couldn't take the chance on spending $17.5 million on a closer, even an accomplished one.
K-Rod also had a list of 10 teams to which he could veto a trade. That list did include some small-market teams like Pittsburgh and Oakland, but the Mets didn't have a list with Milwaukee on it.
The Mets talked to some other teams, believed to include the Yankees and Rangers. The Cardinals and Phillies are among other deep-pocketed teams seeking bullpen help. An executive with one interested team said it was the option that ultimately scared them off -- no surprise. "No team wants to touch that option,'' one rival exec said.
Interestingly, it's possible that dreaded option -- as unsightly as it seems -- could be negotiated away. While teams don't want to spend that much for a closer, K-Rod could get a multiyear deal as a free agent, so he might not mind so terribly giving up the vesting option and becoming a free agent instead. He's not having one of his best years but has been very productive, saving half the Mets' 46 victories. He is 23 for 26 in saves with a 3.16 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, which is a bit high by his standards.
Amazingly, his 291 saves at 29 dwarfs the 129 saves the great Mariano Rivera had at that age. Some question whether K-Rod is the same pitcher he was, but he remains a reliable save man.
"This kid has had a great career,'' Boras said, pointing out his unusually high number of saves before age 30. While Rodriguez's velocity is down from a peak of 98 to the low 90s, Boras said he makes up for the lost zip in other ways. "This guy's got movement, stuff and an array of pitches,'' Boras said. "He hasn't seen 98 mph for four or five years.''
The thinking had been that the Mets would most likely trade K-Rod to a team where he'd set up and could possibly avoid the vesting option, and maybe that's what the Brewers are thinking. But if they are leaning that way, they might have one unhappy set-up man on their hands.
• Word is, CC Sabathia has done some selling on the Yankees to his good buddy Fielder. This doesn't necessarily mean the Yankees will make a play for Fielder, as Sabathia could be acting on his own. But it may be a sign that Sabathia has an indication the Yankees will take care of him. His opt-out likely gives him the power to add two or maybe three years to a contract that will have $92 million over four years remaining after the year.
• Bud Selig defended absent All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter, with the commissioner going so far as to say he probably wouldn't have come had it been him in Jeter's shoes. That was no surprise in that Jeter is viewed as a superstar who's only brought honor to the game. There are too many stars over the past couple decades who became tainted by misdeeds that Selig understandably tried hard to counteract the negative publicity surrounding Jeter's decision not to come to Phoenix to be introduced following his 3,000-hit magic. No players criticized Jeter, but some executives said they were surprised Jeter would do anything that could hurt his image.
• One problem at the All-Star Game was the lack of star power compared to usual. Though there were 84 All-Stars by the time all the replacements were named, Jeter, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones were named but not here, Jon Lester, David Price, Ryan Braun, Shane Victorino, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and James Shields were here but either not active or eligible, and Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols did not make the team.
• Pujols, who wanted to come, should have been named as a replacement rather than Scott Rolen or Miguel Montero. However, manager Bruce Bochy said he didn't see the St. Louis papers in which Pujols expressed an interest in coming. Bochy also said he picked Montero because of his concern of having a third catcher after last year when Yadier Molina came out hurt and the NL had no possible replacement if Brian McCann had gotten hurt. Rolen is not having a particularly good year by his standards, but Aramis Ramirez refused to go. Bochy seemed to have regrets about leaving out Pujols, but said, "I'm not taking a bullet for [Ramirez].''
• Bengie Molina, asked if he was going to play this year, said "No.'' He said he hadn't retired "yet'' though.
• The Phillies seek a reliever and a righthanded bat. They play to win, so any claim of having little money to spend should be taken pretty lightly.
• The Tigers could be a suitor for Carlos Beltran, who's been more often linked to the Giants, Red Sox or Yankees. The Tigers could look to add one hitter, either a second baseman, third baseman or outfielder. Someone else mentioned the Brewers for Beltran, though they'd have to move Corey Hart to centerfield to consider that.
• It's no surprise that David Ortiz wants a two-year deal. The Red Sox would prefer a healthy one-year deal. But it might be hard for them not to accede to his wishes considering his performance: .304, 19 home runs, 55 RBIs.
• Sources confirm there's a deal for Jaime Garcia with the Cardinals. It's reportedly for $27.5 million over four years with two team options.
• The Reds brought up Ubaldo Jimenez's name in trade talks, as FOXsports.com reported. But the Rockies aren't really looking to sell, so it's uncertain how that could work at this time.
• The momentum seems strong for a switch to a 15/15 league split. The Astros are the team that would have to move from the NL to the AL, as they have an incoming owner who wouldn't be in position to protest. The Diamondbacks have been mentioned as the other possibility for a switch, but D-backs sources said they would not agree to be moved.
• The momentum is also strong for expanded playoffs, and there seems to be decent sentiment for a one-game wild card playoff among the players.
• Players union chief Michael Weiner said umpires and player-umpire relations are "areas of substantial concern.''
• Selig suggested replay could be expanded in a small way, using the example of a line drive down the lines as something more they could add for review.
• There may be some discussion about moving the All-Star Game to Wednesday since the relatively new rule disallowing pitchers who started Sunday to pitch in the game severely limited the pitching star power. Sabathia, Verlander, Hernandez and Shields all happened to pitch Sunday.
• Heath Bell probably won some fans with his sprint from the bullpen, which was punctuated with a slide on the infield grass, just short of the mound. He had alerted a few teammates he was about to do something special. Or at least different. Asked why he didn't do a head-first slide, Bell responded, "I'm stupid, but not that stupid.'' He also seems like a terrific guy.
• Asked if their checks were clearing, the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw both said yes.