Fernando Rodney: Proven Closer, Somehow

Jeff Sullivan · February 6, 2014 at 6:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Fernando Rodney is 36 years old. That might surprise you, in either way. He might be older than you thought, because it’s really only been recently that he’s been any good. Or he might be younger than you thought, because you can’t really remember baseball before Fernando Rodney, because baseball always has dozens of pitchers like Fernando Rodney at any one given moment. Rodney built a whole career on being a reliever with an electric arm and potential. Then he built a new career. A career where he’s more than Mike MacDougal.

Rodney debuted in 2002 and for a decade, for literally a decade, he was hard-throwing and mediocre. His strikeouts wouldn’t match his velocity. His walks would, and then some. That whole decade, he was worth about 2.5 wins, according to his FanGraphs page. Last year Mark Melancon alone was worth 2.5 wins. In 2011 Rodney was a wreck for the Angels, and he barely pitched in September. It looked like it could be the end of the line, if a reliever ever hits the end of the line when he throws 96. The Rays scooped Rodney up and he set a new all-time ERA record. In the low way, not the way you might’ve expected Rodney to do it. Rodney was worse last season, but he was simultaneously worse and good.

Rodney was always a guy with a live arm and promise. He figured things out at 35. Rodney’s why teams still give those guys chances. And Rodney’s a Mariner, now, for two years and $14 million, or $15 million, if he’s healthy and great. The Mariners were first linked to Rodney some months ago, and it seemed inevitable they’d throw money at some kind of veteran for bullpen work. Rumors died down until they burst back to life. Rodney’s the new guy, and he’s the new closer.

Which is a bummer for Danny Farquhar, and which is kind of a bummer for us, because I think we’re all pretty big Danny Farquhar fans. We know we have the numbers on our side, and there’s reason to believe that Farquhar’s the superior reliever. Ideally, your closer would be your best guy, and your setup guy would be your second-best guy, and so on down the chain. If Farquhar’s better than Rodney, it’s weird to have Rodney as the closer. But more important than having guys in the right order is having the right guys, and closer be damned, the Mariners needed bullpen help. It was awful flimsy behind Farquhar and Charlie Furbush, and while Rodney’s no sure thing, he’s what Yoervis Medina wishes he were. Rodney solidifies the unit, probably, and given that the Mariners are in the business of trying to contend, Rodney does positive things for their playoff odds.

At the appropriate cost. The Mariners sure as shoot aren’t paying Rodney to repeat his historic 2012, because that would be all but unrepeatable. They’re really just paying him to be a good reliever, and he’s coming off a couple good seasons, and it’s not like any other resources have been sacrificed. Rodney costs two years of money, then he’s gone and remembered in some way, to be determined.

Lots of people have been talking about the M’s signing Nelson Cruz. The M’s themselves have been talking about the M’s signing Nelson Cruz, even publicly, on the record. It’s feeling like a thing that’s going to happen. I can already sense myself working to get over it. I will have already been through all the stages by the time the news initially hits. Cruz is perceived as a major splash, but after looking at all the numbers, you could make the argument that Rodney’s the bigger improvement for this team. Maybe just equivalent, but Cruz is overrated by many, and Rodney is underrated by some, and this contract is probably better than that contract would or will be. Cruz wouldn’t mean nothing, but Rodney addresses an area of quiet concern. During the season, it wouldn’t have been so quiet.

Oh, it’s beyond easy to envision Rodney coming apart and turning into what Yoervis Medina actually is. It’s easy to envision Rodney turning into a guy we never want to see on the mound in a game closer than six. That’s something Rodney already was, for a long time, and now he’s older and not pitching to Jose Molina, and even a good version of Rodney puts people with weak hearts in hospitals. Rodney’s never going to feel safe, and as he shoots his celebratory arrow, it’ll be accompanied by the sound of some tens of thousands of people finally breathing. It’ll sound like an actual arrow in flight. Prepare yourself for even the good outcome to be mildly traumatizing.

But Rodney can be good because he’s been good recently, and we want the Mariners to have more talent on the roster, and I’m excited to have a closer with a little ego and personality. Farquhar’s too nice. Wilhelmsen’s too uncertain and spacy. I guess Brandon League had a little ego and personality but he was a moron. I don’t even remember what David Aardsma was like. I very much enjoyed the J.J. Putz era. The Mariners’ new closer has a choreographed save celebration. He also wears his hat in such a way that from the back you can’t tell where he’s looking. One thing Fernando Rodney isn’t is forgettable.

It’s not a great move by the Mariners, but it’s not a bad move by them, either, and the team’s better now than it was. I might usually want more, but I’ll take this. I’m actually pretty easy to please. Decisions in the past have caused me to forget that. But I’m a fairly positive guy. This, this right here — this is fine.


23 Responses to “Fernando Rodney: Proven Closer, Somehow”

  1. Westside guy on February 6th, 2014 6:13 pm

    With Rodney, I’m planning to withhold judgement. If his signing ends up being a waste, it’ll likely have more to do with the rest of the roster’s construction… and, right now, that’s what I expect will be the most likely outcome (yes, I’m assuming the roster with 4 DH/1B types is inevitable).

  2. TumwaterMike on February 6th, 2014 7:04 pm

    I remember Eddie Guardado giving us heart attacks by walking the first couple of batters he faced and then some how wiggling out of it most of the time. I expect more from Rodney.

  3. Woodcutta on February 6th, 2014 7:56 pm

    Whether you think this signing was great or meh, the M’s bullpen is now better than last year’s. Also, it allows Farquhar to pitch in higher leverage innings while not having to worry about losing his job after a bad outing or two.

  4. TumwaterMike on February 6th, 2014 8:31 pm

    So who now gets removed from the 40 man? My guess is Noesi.

  5. Carson on February 7th, 2014 12:03 am

    I think you mean your hope is Noesi. I know it’s mine!

  6. Greeff on February 7th, 2014 12:43 am

    We needed an upgrade in the bullpen, so good move.

    Noesi pitched pretty well in the DWL so i don’t think he will be DFA’d (yet)
    My guess is Xavier Avery gets DFA’d.

  7. ck on February 7th, 2014 1:03 am

    Mariners made a move to improve the team. They risked money, not prospects. If Rodney is good, good! If Rodney is not good, Farquhar, et al, are still in the pen. Good move.

  8. californiamariner on February 7th, 2014 1:13 am

    Not an overpay, not an underpay. I think a lot of people have had it drilled in their head so much that “proven closer” is a waste of free agency that some people won’t like it. Seems like the consensus around here is Mariners needed bullpen help and he helps so overall this is fine and I agree!

  9. SeattleSlew on February 7th, 2014 1:19 am

    I like the fact that the games are shorter now.

    Does this signing mean they loose the 3rd round pick or do they loose the pick they are suppose to get for Morales?

  10. PackBob on February 7th, 2014 1:58 am

    Hey, maybe Medina does what Rodney did, if not so much. He has a mentor now!

    If a team is the sum of its true talent, a year is the sum of how much better or worse the team performs than the true talent level, with some randomness thrown in. A good manager is supposed to tease the better performance out of a team, whether that’s true or not. It seems like it could just as easily be overshadowed by randomness.

    This team has a lot of unknown parts, including manager and even team president. They have a superstar position player to go along with a superstar pitcher. Any uptick in talent is a good thing, even Cruz if he works out that way. It’s rash to be too hopeful, but maybe there will be enough of everything to have a decent team.

  11. MrZDevotee on February 7th, 2014 2:13 am

    Sounding like there’s a good chance (sad sigh suppressed) Nelson Cruz is about to happen too.

    So yeah, Mariners haven’t built a World Series contender, but they have quietly put together a team that at least seems watchable without wincing (unless a fly ball heads Nelson Cruz’s way).

    With Farquhar and Wilhelmsen adding Rodney gives the back end of the pitching staff some oomph, where other than the OF defense it was the biggest weakness last season. 3 closer worthy guys when they’re on… And Rodney is actually a LOT like Wilhelmsen when you look at his stats– his success directly hinges on his walks.

    But I’d watch these guys try to win some games:

    Brad Miller SS
    Kyle Seager 3B
    F. Gutierrez LF (“to dream… the impossible dream”)
    Robinson Cano 2B
    Nelson Cruz RF
    Logan Morrison/Corey Hart/Justin Smoak DH
    Logan Morrison/Corey Hart/Justin Smoak 1B
    Michael Saunders CF
    Mike Zunino C

    Ackley as Saunders/Guty platoon/sub
    WF Bloomquist as INF backup
    Buck as C backup
    Morrison/Hart/Smoak bench bat

    They aren’t all the ideal player you’d pencil in to their position, but they’re also not guys you don’t expect to see on a major league roster, which is progress (baby steps). Definitely the strongest bench we’ve had in a long time, with actual starting quality guys as subs (versus “wing and a prayer” types). And I checked FOUR times, but couldn’t find a 42 year old Raul Ibanez on the roster (toddler steps)… (Ignoring the mystery known as Jesus Montero, entirely…)

    Also, suddenly the pitching staff has sort of taken a shape on, too, good or bad…

    Tai Walker
    Scott Baker (“2nd impossible dream…”)
    Paxton/Ramirez/Maurer (for 5th and maybe 4th)

    Ramirez/Maurer LR
    ??? NRI/Youth-y guy

    Without blowing smoke up anybody’s ass, it’s at least something that resembles a major league baseball team. Top to bottom. I think I could support that roster, high hopes aside. Dream of 85 wins, keying on Franklin, Smoak, and Guty upswings in their contributions, and Hart and Morrison getting healthy, and (once again) the luck of very few flyballs to Nelson Cruz.

    Pitchers and Catchers report in a week. Go M’s!

  12. Breadbaker on February 7th, 2014 2:19 am

    Query as to whether Farquahar now gets traded. If Jack can sell him at the top of the market, that is not a bad idea.

  13. Woodcutta on February 7th, 2014 3:47 am

    Why would they trade Farquhar? They just improved the bullpen and trading him would put them back where they were before signing Rodney.

  14. stevemotivateir on February 7th, 2014 6:27 am

    So, if Zunino is able to find his bat, Miller continues to build on what he did last season, Ackley and Saunders perform like they did in the second half last season, Smoak performs like he did in the first half last season, Walker and Paxton pitch like they did in September and show little or no regression, Baker stays healthy and regains his old form, Guti stays healthy, Hart to produce like he did before the surgeries, Pryor returns and pitches like he did before the injury…

    Really seems like they’re bankin’ on a lot of “what if’s”. Having Buck, Almonte, WFB, and Morrison as alternatives doesn’t make things any more comforting.

    If Cruz is added to the mix, then they’ll be expecting him to not suck at pitcher-friendly stadiums, despite having generally done so his entire career.

    Great plan!

    Seriously, I think this is a better team with more potential–and I like a lot of these guys, but this isn’t the roster that’s going to push them into contention.

  15. bookbook on February 7th, 2014 7:43 am

    Wow, painful reminder of how bad CF/LF/RF/1B/DH is really looking, even after you speculate that they sink $20 million or so into an “upgrade.”

    Fernando Rodney wasn’t extended a qualifying offer, so the Rays won’t pry loose any pick from the M’s for his signing. We lose no picks to the Rodney acquisition.

  16. Chris_From_Bothell on February 7th, 2014 7:57 am

    I see the annual “if they all stay healthy, and the kids perform to potential, and the new guys have career years, this team could be .500” has begun. It’s like a rite of spring. (As is my pessimism, I know.)

    But seriously, it’s good to see some cautious enthusiasm in here, and avoiding letting Seahawks success cloud opinions of what the M’s roster is, can or should be. Unlike some other Seattle sports blogs lately.

    I don’t get attached to relievers anymore so I don’t really have high or low expectations for Rodney. It’s a good move on paper.

    Really though, each day that goes by that the M’s haven’t added a MOTR starter, an outfielder that can actually field their position, or a true 2-or-3-win-upgrade at some other position… well, that’s another day that .500 seems to be the upper limit for 2014. Really pulling for some vintage Jack Z “holy cow where did that trade come from” sort of surprise, and would love to see the M’s way overachieve as usual…

    …but this 2014 roster is not something to be excited about, either on its own merits or as a building-to-the-future team. Cano is simply taking the “look, the M’s have a superstar not named Felix” role that Ichiro used to have. Everyone else that isn’t Felix, Kuma, Cano or Seager is the usual grab bag of rehabs, castoffs, spare parts, if-they-stay-healthy, kids, etc.


  17. hailcom on February 7th, 2014 8:38 am

    I don’t understand the “meh” reaction of some. The FA market at this point does not have any sure things, so going after someone with both upside and good recent performance is about as good a move as we could expect. Especially at such a limited cost in $ and years. This is a good move, not meh at all. Is it guaranteed to work out? No, but it is a nice addition of potential upside. Now let’s get Capuano!

  18. TumwaterMike on February 7th, 2014 9:00 am

    I agree with Wood, why trade Farquhar? We have just strengthened our bullpen, why go back and weaken it. Prior will be out to start the season but may return around May. If he does well and Farquhar does well you may be able to use Farquhar as a trade chip in July.

  19. LongDistance on February 7th, 2014 9:10 am

    I always thought Wilhelmsen would be the stronger choice, until it became obvious he couldn’t just shut up and pitch. In terms of Rodney’s being 36, he’s a little in the upper range for closers, who tend to be in their early 30s. But not very many have that arm. It may well be that he’s fallen ass backwards into his golden destiny.

    Let’s hope.

    Because given what will be grazing back behind him in OF, we’re going to need someone who can snuff singles and doubles. At the very least, even if the wheels come off the wagon as the season plays out, he can probably be moved effectively forward into a fireman role.

    I’m OK with this. I’m a lot more meh about any possible splashes. A tweak here, a tweak there… is good. I hope the tweaks continue.

    Because, as well, I really wish I could be privy to their rationale for the current OF. I mean, what do they use, String Theory? I can’t get around how they make it work, beyond sorely crossed fingers.

  20. Longgeorge1 on February 7th, 2014 9:21 am

    And sadly reality struck as I searched the standings on that warm and pleasant August morning. There below the Rangers, Angels and A’s with a 55-65 record stood the Mariners. No outfield defense, no infield. Just two consistent starters and the bullpen in disarray. The NFL preseason has started and the only chants as loud as SEA-HAWKS is Z MUST GO. Just seven days until “pitchers and catchers report”. Please God can Seattle have a major league baseball team this year?

  21. californiamariner on February 7th, 2014 10:35 am

    I’ve already gone through all the emotions with the Nelson Cruz signing from anger, to whatever, to maybe it won’t be terrible. Wish it would just be official so it’s over with. If it’s not a massive overpay I don’t really care at this point.

  22. MrZDevotee on February 7th, 2014 4:13 pm

    I’m with you… I feel like Maria Shriver hearing rumors about Awhnold constantly having affairs, and we’re coming up on the day we’re gonna find out he actually had a baby with an oddly unappealing looking maid. “That? Really?… Why? Am I doing something wrong? WTF?”

    Maybe signing Cruz should be a story in the National Enquirer– those never seem like realistic scenarios either. And like the Enquirer, maybe it’s just a rumor run amok?

  23. Mariner.lovechild on February 8th, 2014 1:21 am

    ‘believe this is a step in the right direction. defense has gotta come back (Hawks, eh???) Nelson, if they get him, hope he backs up Cano… but Starting pitching, why not Santana or Jimenez? I’d love a star-studded rotation. Really don’t wanna see Ramirez or Maurer out there again. Paxton/Walker, high hopes.

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