How Al Avila’s search for a closer landed him K-Rod
The Tigers touched base with clubs before last week’s General Managers Meetings, a regular practice at the start of the offseason to gauge teams’ needs and what they’d be willing to deal. They found a surprising number of teams willing to trade their closer. They also found many of those teams looking for big returns to do so. The Tigers checked in on Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and reportedly Brad Boxberger, but found teams asking on the same high-level prospects that the Tigers felt they needed — not just down the road, but in the very near future.
They engaged in early talks with free agent Joakim Soria, their closer for much of last season, but a heavy amount of interest pushed the expected contract from two years to three. Darren O’Day, meanwhile, is reportedly looking for a four-year contract, according to MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal.
The Tigers wanted to address their bullpen, and closer was at the top of the list. At the same time, they didn’t want to sell out their farm system or take up payroll space budgeted for starting pitchers. So during the GM Meetings, they came back to the Brewers about Francisco Rodriguez.
“With [new Brewers GM] David Stearns, obviously we had reached out before the GM Meetings and just kind of exchanged information like we normally do with clubs as far as needs and that nature,” Tigers GM Al Avila said on Wednesday’s conference call. “And then at the GM Meetings, we had talked about it a little bit more.”
As talks with Soria’s agent lingered, the suspicion grew that the Tigers were preferring their trade options. By Tuesday, this was clearly the one they preferred.
“After all the conversations, we just decided this would be the rest route for us,” Avila said. “We felt that Francisco, with his experience, gave us the best option to close games for us this coming year and gives us the flexibility to continue to add bullpen pieces.
“Also it’s a one-year contract with an option, so it gives us some flexibility there. The overall trade was good for both clubs. The full situation of acquiring a pitcher we were comfortable giving the ball in the ninth inning with his experience, and the full package of the deal, is really what made it attractive for us. And we were able to keep some of the younger guys we wanted to keep.”
Rodriguez, who signed in mid-March after lingering on the free-agent market, will make $7.5 million next year – of which $2 million is deferred to 2018 — on the back half of a two-year, $13 million contract. The Tigers hold a $6 million club option for 2017, or a $2 million buyout. Even if Rodriguez isn’t the closer by season’s end, as long as he’s healthy and reasonably effective, it’s a reasonable deal to pick up the option. Thus, the Tigers get two years of Rodriguez — his age-34 and 35 seasons — for $13.5 million and second-base prospect Javier Betancourt, who was 11th on MLB.com’s Tigers prospect list but was expected to be at least a year away from the big leagues. There’s also a player to be named in the deal that is expected to be decided later this winter.
The Tigers have been linked with interest with Rodriguez in the past, but have always turned elsewhere. When he was still on the market last Spring Training, Detroit didn’t have the payroll space, turning back to Joba Chamberlain on a $1 million deal for depth. What Rodriguez did as closer last year — 38 saves in 40 chances, a career-best 0.86 WHIP, 6.0 hits per nine innings, and a still-strong 9.8 K/9 thanks to a nasty changeup — caught their attention. While his 20 home runs allowed over the last two years was a high rate, the transition from Miller Park to Comerica Park is expected to temper that.