Francisco Rodriguez, Preemptive Strike by the Brewers

While 28 teams were watching an exhibition game, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson pulled off the first big deal of the trading season with the Mets sending closer and former All-Star reliever Francisco Rodriguez and cash (reportedly a significant amount) to Milwaukee for two players to be named later. The players are not presumed to be top prospects and the Mets will choose in September from a group of five. The 29-year-old Rodriguez is 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and 23 saves and can be used either to close games or set up the current Brewers closer John Axford.

Rodriguez is in the final season of a deal that guarantees three years, $37 million. He has a vesting option for $17.5 million that is due to kick in at 55 games finished for 2012. Rodriguez currently is at 34 games finished.

I like this deal for both teams.

For the Brewers, who are tied for first in the AL Central, it puts every team on notice that now have a back end of the bullpen that competes with the Giants and the Braves and better than any other competitive NL team. I love that the Brewers not only put themselves out there, but struck early. You might recall that in 2008 when Milwaukee went to the postseason, they did so in large part because they acquired CC Sabathia on July 7. The Brewers now have two weeks worth of games to utilize their new closing combo as opposed waiting until the start of August to get going.

Secondly, the Brewers, by being first in, may end up being the low bidders amongst teams who will be vying for the likes of Heath Bell (BTW; he was F-U-N at the ASG last night), Brian Fuentes, Sean Marshall and Joakim Soria, and others because now there is one less player from which to choose.

Thirdly, K-Rod, who just hired Scott Boras as his agent, needs to show he can be a good team player if his contract doesn’t vest and he becomes a free-agent. If he acts, and performs, poorly it only affects his pocketbook and he doesn’t have much good will to fall back on. FYI: Rodriguez will be reunited with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who was a coach with Francisco during his glory years with the Angels.

The other big question is “Did, or will, K-Rod wave his vesting option?” By doing so, Rodriguez increases his value to the Brewers by being able to close games and increases his free-agent value as well because if he doesn’t close he won’t get the $17.45m and appears as a bitter free agent. If he waives the vesting, while he won’t get the $17.5m, the contract he does get most likely will be higher than having just spent half a season as a disgruntled set-up man.

For the Mets, this is all win. First, K-Rod had to go for many reasons, but especially the vesting option. Without the burden of that money hanging over them, they are potentially now able to re-invest in Jose Reyes. Additionally, now that one deal has been made there is significantly less pressure on them with Carlos Beltran. In other words, “Let the auction begin!”