Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports that Ivan Rodriguez has signed a two-year, six million dollar deal with the Washington Nationals. While a quick glance at his career suggests a Hall-of-Fame level player, Pudge’s (isn’t there some law about recycled nicknames?) best years, or even decent years, are clearly way off in the distance, and at 38 years old, he’s likely on his last contract.
Rodriguez always had a good defensive reputation, and a glance at Rally’s WAR suggests that it was justified, particularly in the late 1990s, when he put up several seasons in the +20 range. That was a long time ago, however, and as you’d expect his skills aren’t what they used to be. CHONE projects him as a +3/150 defender; above average, but not spectacular.
As for his bat, Pudge had some great seasons back in the day, but one thing he’s never been known for is a willingness to take a walk.
Rickey Henderson he isn’t. It is interesting that the one season in which “I-Rod” was actually above average in walk rate was the surprising 2003 Marlins championship team. He has consistently swung at pitches outside the strike zone 15% more often than league average. That approach worked well when he was younger and could regularly post a batting average over .300 with some power, but the “swing at everything” approach is a young man’s game, as Pudge has slipped from a still-valuable-for-a-catcher .330 wOBA in 2006 all the way down to a .287 wOBA in 2009. CHONE projects I-Rod as a .250/.285/.371 hitter for 2010, or -28 runs/150 games. I have him ever-so-slightly better, at .252/.279/.376, or about -24/150 (.282 wOBA).
Per 150 games, let’s say he is a -26 hitter, +3 defender, +12 for catching, +20 replacement level = 0.9 WAR player. However, catchers, particularly 38-year old catchers, almost never play 150 games, and Rodriguez hasn’t played 150 since 1997. 120 is optimistic. With that in mind Pudge is closer to a 0.5 WAR player than a 1 WAR player.
There’s not much left on the market in terms of free agent catchers this season, especially with Gregg Zaun already signed. Apparently, even Miguel Olivo is drawing interesting from multiple teams. And the Nationals’ catching situation in particular doesn’t look promising — Jesus Flores isn’t a world-beater (although CHONE says he’s better than Rodriguez), and is coming off an injury-marred season. Still, what is the point of signing a 38-year old formerly great catcher for 2 years for the Nationals? If he’s a 1 WAR player (and that’s pretty optimistic), this might be a slightly good deal for the team, but what is the potential upside? Is the one extra win Rodriguez might provide over a cheaper alternative going to launch the Nationals into a wildcard spot in 2010?
Ivan Rodriguez may have something left to offer someone, but not as a starter for this kind of money on a rebuilding team. I look forward to reading quotes from the Nationals about how Pudge is a “legend” who is a “veteran presence in the clubhouse” and will “work well with our young pitching staff.”