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From Heaven To Tampa: Fernando Rodney Joins the Rays

So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

— Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

In this season of Hall of Fame ballots and reflection on players past, it often comes up how disappointing it can be for fans to watch a favorite player whose glory days are behind them. If a player wants to keep playing even after their skills have begun to dull, that is certainly their right, but aging is seldom a pleasant process to watch from afar.

The newest Ray, Fernando Rodney, won’t have to worry about causing fans such retrospective grief, as he’s unlikely to garner much Hall of Fame support, but he the idea of staying just a little too long may have occurred him over the course of the last year. Coming off his 37 save season with the Tigers in 2009, Rodney signed a two-year deal that would pay him $11 million to finish games for the Angels. Over the course of that deal, Rodney saved a total of 17 games. In 2010, he lost the role to Brian Fuentes and in 2011 he was muscled out by Jordan Walden, so it’d be hard to blame him for feeling as though he had overstayed his welcome almost from the first day he arrived in Anaheim.

In coming to the Rays, Rodney — and fantasy owners as well — should have little illusion of what his role his: He is a middle reliever, the third in line for saves at best. Mixed league players in leagues shallower than, say, 18 teams, can safely move Rodney off the radar. He’s not grabbing a lot of strikeouts, he’ll fight for holds, and if his walk issues flare up again, he’ll inflate a team’s WHIP without providing much in the way of counting stats to compensate.

In fact, the only type of league in which I can see Rodney being an effective option is very deep, AL-only leagues that count holds. I expect the Rays to be a strong contender in the AL East, which will mean hold opportunities out there for the grabbing, even if Rodney isn’t the primary bridge to Kyle Farnsworth. The question is whether the Rays will use him as a valued part of the team or glorified mop-up man.

Last season, Rodney managed to amass just 10 holds with the Angels — he was also 3/7 in save chances, which explains why Walden was so soon to the role — largely because he was allowing base runners at an exceptional rate. His WHIP of 1.69 tells much of the story, but the fact that he walked a hair under 20 percent of the batters he faced is a much clearer example of just how ineffective he was. There is some good news in the fact that his 18.7 percent BB% was a career high by a relatively large margin; if he had been steadily building to this point, a sudden regression would be far less likely. As it is, there’s a chance that a new pitching coach will be able to make a correction that in turn makes a big difference in his results.

The Rays have enough depth in their pitching staff that there’s virtually no way an ineffective Rodney gets more than a few chances to grab an available hold or the odd save. If he’s pitching well, he could be trusted with more responsibility, though — barring injuries to those ahead of him — I don’t see a path for him back to the closer’s job. If he is pitching well and isn’t on his way to posting a K/BB ratio under 1.00 the way he did in 2011, perhaps he’s worth a speculative grab in the aforementioned very deep, AL-only, holds league. If he was a high strikeout, high walk pitcher in the Carlos Marmol vein, I’d be much higher on his value, but with Rodney it’s all risk and fairly limited reward.

DRays Bay posted an interesting table yesterday, showing the improved performances of relievers acquired by the Rays, so perhaps there’s more than faint hope for fantasy relevance from Rodney, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Yes, Rodney is a recognizable name that had a great season within recent memory, but like Frost said, “Nothing gold can stay”.