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Market Watch: Francisco Rodriguez

RHP Francisco Rodriguez, free agent
Age: 26 (turns 27 in January)
Career stats: 23-17, 2.35 ERA, 208 saves in 241 opportunities
Agent: Paul Kinzer

A few days ago we described the perfect storm of circumstances surrounding soon-to-be-gazillionaire free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, the perfect player in the perfect marketplace. Today, we bring you the flip side.

Sorry, K-Rod. It is simply not a good time to be hitting the market as an elite closer. We understand your agent at one point floated five years and $75 million as your target deal, and we understand he has since backed off that. He may need to keep backing up: As my colleague Cameron Smith has pointed out, there could be a market adjustment going on.

Here are the immediate problems: Most of the big-money teams in baseball are set at closer. This includes the New York Yankees (Mariano Rivera), Boston Red Sox (Jonathan Papelbon), Chicago White Sox (Bobby Jenks) and Los Angeles Dodgers (Takashi Saito/Jonathan Broxton).

The primary exceptions appear to be the New York Mets and Detroit Tigers, both big-spending teams that can be accurately described as desperate for a closer. But both appear disinclined to spend big on one, at least long-term.

Additionally, the market is fairly saturated with (cheaper) closer options, including Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, Chad Cordero and Trevor Hoffman. And that's not to mention trade possibilities such as Chicago's Jenks, Colorado's (formerly Oakland's) Huston Street and Florida's Kevin Gregg.

But the bigger problem is that teams no longer seem inclined to invest huge sums of money in free agent closers, figuring it is cheaper (and arguably just as effective) to develop your own. There has long been a school of thought in player development circles that every franchise has an elite closer somewhere in its ranks--the trick is identifying and developing him.

This is what appears to have happened with the team that holds Rodriguez's rights until Friday, when the free agent market officially opens--the Los Angeles Angels. Last year, while K-Rod was enjoying a record-setting season of 62 saves, 24-year-old rookie Jose Arredondo emerged as a dominant set-up man, and arguably had an even better season than Rodriguez:

ERA Opp. BA Opp. OPS K's/9 IP ERA+
Rodriguez 2.24 .216 .630 10.1 195
Arredondo 1.62 .190 .533 8.1 268

It becomes a fairly simple choice in Anaheim: Pay K-Rod $12 million to $15 million annually to close games for the next three to five years, or pay Arredondo a fraction of that to do the same job just as well, or better?

So where could Rodriguez wind up? His agent claims there are four or five teams currently showing strong interest, one of which, he says, is the Mets. Another is almost certainly the Texas Rangers. It would make sense for the Tigers to be heavily involved, but they appear hesitant to throw a lot of money around this winter after the disastrous result of last winter's spending spree.

Quite simply, the Mets make the most sense, and agent Paul Kinzer is working hard to build momentum behind a potential signing. But GM Omar Minaya has made it known he is seeking a cheaper option than Rodriguez, and Fuentes, in particular, seems high on his list.

The Angels, meantime, are in no way out of the picture. Although their primary focus will be re-signing first baseman Teixeira, if that falls through they may revisit the question of K-Rod, if he is still available at that point.

And given the look of the marketplace, there is every reason to think he will be.

By Dave Sheinin  |  November 12, 2008; 10:16 AM ET
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Dave - a scenario for the NYY might be to bring in K-Rod as the set up / back up closer and stick Joba in the rotation. They could justify paying K-Rod starter money because Joba is an indentured servant for several years. They also conceivably have a successor to Mo. They have been willing to pay closer money for set up guys before, so in a way the incremental cost is not so much in terms of total pitching budget. Still, $15 million and 5 years is too high and long for a set up guy, but if no one will give K-rod that kind of money, I could see the NYY getting into this with say 3 years guaranteed at $11 - $13 per, and two options at $15 million after that, timed for when Mo's contract expires.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 12, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

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