Tigers acquire closer Rodriguez in trade with Milwaukee
DETROIT (AP) The Tigers are turning to Francisco Rodriguez in their latest attempt to shore up the back end of their bullpen.
Detroit acquired the right-hander in a trade with Milwaukee on Wednesday, sending minor league infielder Javier Betancourt and a player to be named to the Brewers. Detroit general manager Al Avila said the Tigers might also receive a player to be named in the deal, but that's not certain.
Rodriguez, who turns 34 in January, went 1-3 with a 2.21 ERA for the Brewers in 2015. He had 38 saves in 40 chances. Detroit finished last in the AL Central this year after winning four straight division titles, and the bullpen was a priority heading into this offseason.
''We had explored a lot of the different options that are presented out there,'' Avila said. ''There's a lot of free agent pitchers, none of which really have extensive closing experience. We also checked with a lot of major league clubs that are entertaining the idea of a possible trade.''
Detroit's bullpen has been an issue for the last few seasons. Closer Jose Valverde faltered toward the end of 2012, and the following year, the Tigers eventually settled on Joaquin Benoit as their closer. Then Benoit left and they signed Joe Nathan, but he struggled in 2014 and missed almost all of 2015 with an elbow injury.
The Tigers declined their $10 million option on Nathan for 2016, and Rodriguez became an attractive target.
''It's something that me and my family are looking forward ... knowing a little bit more about my future, where I'm going to be at next year,'' Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is owed $7.5 million for 2016, with $2 million of that deferred interest free until January 2018. He has a $6 million team option for 2017 that includes a $2 million buyout.
Rodriguez holds the major league record of 62 saves in a season. He set that mark in 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels, then signed with the New York Mets. He was traded to Milwaukee in 2011, and after an unimpressive showing in 2012, he was brought back by the Brewers on a minor league deal the following April.
Following a trade to Baltimore in the middle of the 2013 season, Rodriguez returned to Milwaukee as a free agent and converted 44 of 49 save chances in 2014. Last season, he posted his best ERA since 2010.
According to Fangraphs.com, Rodriguez threw fastballs on only about 45 percent of his pitches this year, while throwing a changeup about 43 percent of the time. That was a significant departure from his previous approach.
''When I look at Frankie, I see kind of a little bit of a Trevor Hoffman,'' Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. ''Both of these guys, they came up throwing 95-plus miles an hour and could basically throw the ball by guys. ... Frankie, like Trevor, has just turned to the changeup - both of them had tremendous changeups, swing-and-miss changeups - and he's reinvented himself and become equally as successful.''
The 20-year-old Betancourt played second base in 2015 for Class A Lakeland. He hit .263 with three home runs and 48 RBIs in 122 games.
Milwaukee went 68-94 this season and felt it could trade Rodriguez to build for the future.
''We've stated our intentions many times in the past,'' new Brewers GM David Stearns said. ''We're looking to acquire as much young, quality, controllable talent as we can and we think we took a nice step forward with the deal.''