One year after leading the American League in saves and three after one of the greatest seasons by a reliever in major league history, Fernando Rodney was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners. It is easy to understand why–in 54 appearances for the M’s, Rodney mustered only a 5.68 ERA. Now Rodney is a sure bet to pass through waivers and become a free agent. Rodney will be free to sign with anyone, and an interesting fit is the team with whom he made history, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Marc Topkin reports that the Rays are interested in Rodney, although he isn’t a “high priority,” no surprise for a guy who has pitched so poorly this year. That being said, Rodney could certainly perform better next season with the help of Jim Hickey, and maybe he could be fixed before this season is through. Two interesting contract possibilities would be a two-year minor league deal that extends to next year and a minor league that features an option for next season.
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The contract details matter less than the question of whether Rodney still has the ability to be an effective major league reliever. Luckily for him, there are two points working in his favor. The first is his fastball velocity. This season, Rodney is averaging 96.10 MPH with his four-seamer and 95.23 MPH with his two-seamer. Both of those readings are down around 2 MPH from where he was with the Rays in 2013, but they are still impressive and almost identical to his 96.14 and 95.33 MPH marks from his successful 2014. We know how much the Rays like reclamation projects that join their organization with legitimate fastball velocity, and Rodney fits that criterion once again. He may be 38 years old, but he still throws hard.
Secondly, we have the fact that we are even mentioning the four-seamer at all. In 2011, the year before he joined the Tampa Bay Rays, 51.0% of Rodney’s fastballs were four-seamers. Then the Rays made the pitch a much less important part of his arsenal, having it constitute just 10.9% of his heaters in 2012 and 20.7% in 2013. Then Rodney came to the Mariners, and they stuck with what he was doing, having him throw the four-seamer for only 17.4% of his fastballs. This season, however, the Mariners seemingly ignored all of Rodney’s previous success and had him return to using the four-seamer for–you guessed it–51.0% of his heaters.
The Mariners have essentially taken Rodney back in time. From 2009 to 2010, the last two years that the four-seamer was a substantial part of his arsenal before his control collapse (7.9 BB/9) in 2011, Rodney’s K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 were 7.1, 4.8, and 0.8 respectively. This season, he is at a 7.6 K/9, a 4.4 BB/9, and a 1.4 HR/9, basically turning into the same exact pitcher only with a few less ticks on his fastball leading to more hard contact. This comparison isn’t as fascinating as the same exact 51.0% number above, but it is pretty amusing how Rodney has reverted into a worse version of his previous self as he uses his fastball as he did a few years ago.
There are undoubtedly more subtle shifts that the Tampa Bay Rays would make to Fernando Rodney if they do sign him, but getting him back to throwing his sinker for nearly all of his fastballs is an obvious place to start. Rodney likely won’t reemerge as a dominant closer, but there appears to be a good chance that he can become an effective reliever of some type again, and it shouldn’t cost much to find out if he will. It makes a lot of sense for the Rays to re-sign Rodney, and it may not be out of question that he can help their bullpen in September.