The Brewers went out and traded for Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) from the Mets. That means that the Cardinals need to respond with a trade of their own, right? Wrong. The team’s needs haven’t changed just because one of their main competitors for the division title made a move. Instead, the management team will see the move for what it is – a quick fix attempt involving a big name that is simply the first move of many that could be made by division contenders. Admittedly the move by the Brewers has some potential repercussions for the Cardinals, but none of them are worthy of inducing a panic. One likely consequence is that the asking price for Heath Bell or any other short reliever who comes available could go up simply due to a decrease on the supply side. Another likely end result is that the actual package put together by the Brewers becomes the reference “floor” for any trade involving Bell.
So, why exactly should the Cardinals not be overly concerned about the K-Rod deal?
Reality. First, I seriously doubt that K-Rod was even on the radar for the Cardinals, so it’s not like the team lost out on a prized target. He is owed the balance of his $11.5M salary this season, and he has a $17.5M team option for 2012 with a $3.5M buyout. There are criteria he can meet to guarantee that 2012 option, and he only needs to finish 21 more games this season and be healthy after this year to meet all of them. Second, K-Rod hasn’t exactly been at the top of his game lately, and that has to be a concern for someone in just their age 29 season.
Consider that K-Rod is carrying a 3.16 ERA over 42 appearances and 42 2/3 innings pitched. His WHIP is a career high 1.406 on the season, and he’s surrendering 9.3 hits/9 innings. While his strikeout rate of 9.7 per 9 innings is still impressive, it’s well below his career average of 11.2. Also, left-handed hitters are batting .313 (.408 BAbip) and have an OBP of .373 versus K-Rod this season. He’s still almost lights out with runners in scoring position, but I’d be concerned about how he will fair when entering a game with men already on base. He’ll probably be really good, but it only takes that 1 hit per inning that he’s allowing to blow the game open for the other team.
All this doesn’t mean that the Cardinals shouldn’t do something to improve their bullpen, but there is no need for a kneejerk reaction here, and they know it. It’s possible that the best way forward is to make a savvy, payroll friendly move that doesn’t involve a high-priced rental. That means saying “no” to anything involving Heath Bell who looks good from afar with his 2.43 ERA and 1.189 WHIP with 26 saves. The fact that his strikeout rate has dropped from 11.1 per 9 innings in 2010 to 6.6 this season (well below his 9.3 career average) should cause for concern about the 33 year-old. Besides, the Cardinals need someone who is tough on lefties, and lefties are hitting .294 against him versus .162 for righties.
Who might that be….?
For starters, there is Grant Balfour who may or may not be available. The A’s could use an affordable bat, and the Cardinals have several to offer. Balfour has a 2.34 ERA, 1.096 WHIP, and a good strikeout rate (9.6 /9 innings). He’s also under contract through 2012 as part of a 2 year / $8.1M deal, so he wouldn’t be just a rental. He’s capable of being either a setup man or a closer, although he’s made more appearances as a setup man. Perhaps best of all, lefties are hitting just .155 against him, while right-handers are hitting just .219. While Brian Fuentes is the big name potentially on the block, Balfour represents slightly less risk at 2 years younger and a better bargain.
Another possible target is the Padres’ Mike Adams, although his relatively low salary of about $2.5M and effectiveness should mean that the Friars are loathe to trade him. Still, they could use a bat…..or three, and it never hurts to ask, especially when you are talking about a reliever with a 1.32 ERA and .707 WHIP in 41 innings over 41 appearances.
Are there others? Most definitely, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask about them all. Koji Uehara, David Pauley, and Glen Perkins would all be on my wishlist, even though their respective teams may not be interested in dealing them. Again, it never hurts to ask.
Naturally, there will be teams inquiring about Colby Rasmus. It would/should take a significant package to make that deal happen, and a single short reliever isn’t going to suffice.
TIDBIT: Given K-Rod’s contract and John Axford‘s success as a closer, it’s understandable that the Brewers will want to use K-Rod only as a setup man. What will they do if Axford goes down, though?
MORE BITS OF TID: If the contract extension for Jaime Garcia really is 4 yrs / $27.5M with 2 option years, I’m all for it.
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