Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers took a calculated gamble by offering Francisco Rodriguez arbitration earlier this offseason. They expected the right-hander to decline arbitration in pursuit of a closer’s role and a multi-year deal elsewhere, and Milwaukee would garner two draft picks in the process.
Teams started snapping up available closers, however, and Rodriguez sat on the sidelines without many available options. The Padres were rumored to be interested at one point, but instead opted to trade for Huston Street. The Mets internally discussed a reunion with their former closer, but settled on Frank Francisco to likely handle the ninth inning.
In the end, too few viable landing spots were available to entice K-Rod to forgo arbitration and gamble on the open market. He accepted the Brewers’ offer of arbitration and will receive a salary somewhere just south of $13.5M — the amount he made in 2011 with the Mets and Brewers — and serve as the set-up man for John Axford.
Milwaukee is now in a tough spot financially. Prior to K-Rod accepting arbitration, their payroll sat around $71M with guaranteed salaries and predicted arbitration, according to Tom Haudricourt. It’s unlikely their payroll will reach the $100M mark for the first time in the history of the franchise — though owner Mark Attanasio has always maintained his payroll is flexible and opportunity-based — so the Brewers have roughly $10-15M to potentially upgrade third base, shortstop, first base, and the remainder of the bullpen.
Milwaukee took the first step in improving their infield conundrum by signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2013. He is essentially the same offensive player as Yuniesky Betancourt — terrible OBP with some power — but he is much better defensively. Though the financials are not yet available, Gonzalez will likely not break the bank and is a nice upgrade in the context of the Brewers’ situation. Obviously, Rafael Furcal would have been nice. The money simply is not there.
Following the same logic, one has to imagine that third baseman Aramis Ramirez is no longer a viable option, as he will probably cost $10M+ per year on a multi-year deal. This will leave the Brewers relying on internal candidates Casey McGehee and Taylor Green — the same combination that was eventually supplanted by Jerry Hairston Jr. in the playoffs due to a lack of production (McGehee) and experience (Green).
Of course, Doug Melvin could clear room in the budget to make room for a free agent signing or two by simply releasing Francisco Rodriguez. Arbitration deals are non-guaranteed, meaning the organization can release the right-hander and only be on the hook for a portion of the contract. Teams are only responsible for one-sixth of a non-guaranteed contract if released prior to the season, which could leave the Brewers on the hook for only $2M (or thereabouts) rather than $9-12M. Any release in Spring Training has to be baseball-related, though, which could be difficult to argue for Milwaukee.
The other option is to trade him. The Atlanta Braves did that with Rafael Soriano two years ago, when they traded Soriano to Tampa in return for the immortal Jesse Chavez. The Red Sox, Astros, Orioles, and Angels could be potential trade partners. A trade is not an attractive option for the Brewers, though, because they would need to either eat the majority of the salary or garner absolutely nothing of significance in return. Not to mention they would simply look to sign a set-up man, anyway.
Most likely, the Brewers keep Francisco Rodriguez to give them the best one-two reliever punch outside of Atlanta. The two both had ERAs under 2.00 and should help the Brewers’ bullpen effectively shorten the game to seven innings. And given the fact that Milwaukee is returning all five starters from a year ago, the team should remain competitive on the strength of their pitching.
With the loss of Prince Fielder and the lack of production from Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt in 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers wanted to focus on upgrading the talent in the infield. Now that Francisco Rodriguez gobbled up the majority of that payroll space and without a stocked farm system to facilitate those upgrades via the trade market, the organization will now have to go bargain-hunting on the free agent market — as they did with Alex Gonzalez — or rely unproven internal candidates.
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