Late last night, news broke that the Mets had traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers (along with $5 million to help off-set his contract) for two players to be named later. My immediate reaction to hearing the news was twofold: what a no-brainer trade for the Mets, and not a half-bad for the Brewers either.
From the Mets’ perspective, this trade is easy to understand: they wanted to unload Rodriguez’s hefty contract. K-Rod’s contract has widely been considered a clunker and an overpay, but it hasn’t been that bad yet. Rodriguez has been paid a total of $31.5 million for 2.5 seasons with the Mets (average of $10.5 million a year), and they got this total value back: 168 IP, 3.05 ERA, 10 K/9, 4 BB/9, 83 saves, 15 blown saves. He’s no longer one of the best relievers in the game, but he’s still well above-average – around 15-20% above average, putting him in the same range as pitchers like Luke Gregerson, Chris Sale, and Matt Thornton.
Note the key word above, though: his contract hasn’t been that bad yet. Rodriguez has a $17.5 million vesting option for 2012, and it becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games this season. Considering Rodriguez has already appeared in 42 games this season, with the vast majority of his appearances coming at the end of the game, his option would have surely vested if he remained with the Mets. The Mets simply wanted to get out from under that onerous option; from the looks of it, they were willing to trade him to any team willing to take him. And I certainly can’t blame them for that.
From the Brewers’ perspective, this trade makes a surprising amount of sense. With John Axford firmly entrenched in the closer role in Milwaukee, it’s likely that K-Rod slides in as a set-up man and doesn’t reach the 55 games closed that would vest his option. And even if Rodriguez’s option does vest for some ridiculous, illogical reason, this is still not a horrible trade for the Brewers.
If the option vests, the Brewers would then pay Rodriguez $17.5 million for essentially 1.5 years of service (prorates to $11.5 million / year), and his help in the bullpen this season could help push the Brewers into a playoff spot. The Brewers are currently tied with the Cardinals for the AL Central lead (and the Pirates are only one game behind them), and Baseball Prospectus gives them a 45% chance of reaching the playoffs. Their bullpen has been mediocre this season, posting a 3.92 ERA (20th in baseball) and 3.68 FIP (10th in baseball), and they could use some high-leverage help outside of Axford. Teams that are close to the reaching the playoffs should be willing to overpay if it will helps improve their team for the late-season run…and it’s still likely that Rodriguez’s option won’t vest.
So even though the Mets aren’t getting much in terms of minor-league talent and the Brewers are taking a calculated risk, I view this trade as a Win-Win. The Mets free up some much-needed payroll space for next season, allowing them to reallocate those funds to more cost-effective routes (like a Jose Reyes extension?), and the Brewers add some talent that should help them make a push for the playoffs. You can’t ask for much more than that.