Fernando Rodney is coming off a season for the record books, dominating hitters to the tune a 0.60 ERA in 74.2 innings pitched in 2012. It was a season that seemingly came entirely out of nowhere- his ERA was nearly 4 runs lower than the 4.50 mark he was at in 2012- but it sure seemed like he made a real breakthrough with his control, walking just 1.8 batters per 9 innings compared to 4.8 BB/9 previously in his career. Just 5.3% of batters Rodney faced walked in 2012 compared to his previous career average of 12.1%, and the probability of him walking so few batters if his true walk rate should have been 12.1% is just .00024, an event with a 4167 to 1 chance of occurring. That by no means indicates that Rodney has any chance at repeating his 0.60 ERA from 2012- but his FIP of 2.13 and xFIP of 2.67 were also career-highs by a mile, and especially given the Rays’ defense, there seems like a real chance that Rodney can manage an ERA in at least the low-to-mid-2.00’s next season, which would still be outstanding. Even though Rodney is primed for another big year, though, he will make just 2.5 million dollars in 2013 after the Rays picked up his team option, and the assumption has always been that Rodney would have one more memorable season in Tampa Bay and then sign a lucrative free agent contract elsewhere. But everything has changed over the past week.
A week ago today, we heard that the finishing touches were being placed on an extension between the Rays and Rodney. As it turned, that report was false as Rodney was misquoted by the Dominican newspaper that reported the story. However, Rodney then said that although an extension was not already in place, it was something he very much wanted and that he thought would happen at some point. But obviously just because Rodney said that doesn’t mean that the Rays bear the same sentiment. Does it make sense for the Rays to sign Rodney to an extension?
After Rodney’s historic 2012, obviously his value is at an all-time high. However, it’s quite as high as you would think as the Rays are well aware that despite how real Rodney’s breakthrough seems, it very well have been a fluke, and Rodney also turns 36 in March and has not been the picture of health in his career. Combine the fact that Rodney’s value is lower than it seems with Rodney’s clear desire to get an extension done with the Rays, and suddenly there’s a real possibility that a deal could get done if it’s something the Rays are willing to pursue. But do the Rays really want to offer a multi-year contract to a reliever? The Rays have given three different relievers multi-year deals: Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler (a 3-year extension), and this offseason, Joel Peralta. But none of those contracts were worth very much money. Percival got two years and $8MM, Wheeler got three years and $10.5MM, and Peralta got two years and $6MM plus three team options. It’s extremely difficult to believe that the Rays could possibly get Rodney for a contract along those lines. After saving 37 games for the Tigers in 2009 but also managing just a 4.40 ERA, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim gave Rodney a two-year, $11MM contract. You have to think that the Rays would be willing to offer Rodney the same deal for 2014 and 2015. But if Rodney wants too much more than that, the Rays won’t do it. Why? Because they have limited resources, because Rodney isn’t really Superman, and because he’s far from the only closer option on their roster moving forward. Joel Peralta filled in quite admirably in the closer role in September of 2011 and could have done the same last year. This offseason, the Rays also signed former Marlins closer Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez), and although he’ll miss most of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, he could be another closer option for 2014. Beyond Peralta and Oviedo, the Rays have several young pitchers with the ability to take the next step and become a closer, with Jake McGee especially standing out and electric arms like Chris Archer and Alex Colome also being options should they end up in the bullpen. If Rodney wants too much money, the Rays will be perfectly content riding him for 2013 and then letting him leave and replacing him with a cheaper option but still one with the ability to be just about as good.
Fernando Rodney wants to stay in Tampa Bay, and the Rays are presumably open to keeping him at the right price. But sacrifices are going to have to be made on both sides to make an extension happen, with Rodney needing to settle for far less money than he could make on the open market and the Rays needing to buck their previous trends and commit to a relatively big multi-year contract for a reliever, and an extension is far from a given. Over the next few weeks, we’ll find out just how much Rodney wants to remain in a Rays uniform and just how far the Rays will be willing to go to keep the pitcher who gave them history in 2012 and will be a huge part of their team once again next season.