Could Fernando Rodney Return in 2014?

By David Hill

Sep 29, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Fernando Rodney (56) reacts after walking Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie (not pictured) in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Tampa defeated Toronto 7-6. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Fernando Rodney came to the Rays on a make-good deal, a one year contract with a team option for a second year that the Rays could have walked away from with minimal cost. As a pitcher who had been decidedly league average over the course of his eight year career and appeared to be on the verge of being out of baseball, Rodney was a low risk-high reward type player that the Rays love to target. He far exceeded expectations, going beyond the typical career year of one of the Rays reclamation projects, posting a historically great season in 2012. That offseason, Rodney had looked for a contract extension, but the Rays chose to let him pitch the season out, to see if he could perform at that level again. Instead, Rodney regressed, not quite to the pitcher he had been before coming to Tampa Bay, but enough where his departure from the Rays seemed to be a forgone conclusion.

However, if Joel Peralta and his teammates over the past two seasons have anything to say about it, Rodney would return as the Rays closer next season. Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Peralta talked about how he wants Rodney back, and the Rodney may be willing to give the Rays a discount to come back.

"“We’ll see,” Peralta said. “I’m really hoping that we both come back. If not, Fernando and I, we’re like brothers right now. If he’s not here, I’m really, really going to miss the guy. He’s one of the best as a pitcher, one of the best as teammates. We’ve got a great relationship, and I’m really hoping that he’s back.”"

The problem with signing Rodney is that it is difficult to determine what he is at this point. Even ignoring the 2012 season as a complete aberration, Rodney shook off a rough beginning of the season to put together an excellent final four months of the season, putting together a 2.28 ERA, saving 28 of 31 chances. He held the opposition to a .208 batting average, striking out 56 batters against 18 walks. It may not have been 2012 all over again, but those numbers are comparable to the top closers in baseball. Is Rodney truly an elite closer, or is he the maddeningly inconsistent reliever who can be dominant for a stretch of time, then suddenly lose command and become extremely flammable on the mound?

Rodney is going to be an interesting case in free agency. If a team truly feels that Rodney is closer to a possibly elite closer than the disaster of the first two months of 2013, then he is likely to receive a lot more money than the Rays would be likely to offer. Also, one has to wonder how much interest the Rays would have in bringing Rodney back. He will be 37 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and the Rays do have a number of possible options to replace Rodney in Jake McGee, Alex Torres and even Peralta himself. The Rays have been historically adverse to paying for closers, and with a number of holes to fill heading into 2014, it seems unlikely that Rodney will be back.

Fernando Rodney may have been a popular teammate, and he may well take a discount to come back to the Rays. But in the end, it is going to come down to whether or not Rodney is worth the price tag to bring back. With possible holes around the diamond and in the relief corps, they may not be able to afford Rodney.