Quick, name the youngest pitcher to accumulate 100 career saves? How about the single-season saves record holder? Give up? Well, his name is Francisco Rodriguez, but baseball fans know him as K-Rod, and he’s the newest Baltimore Oriole, acquired late yesterday from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Rodriguez burst onto the scene in September 2002, having an almost Puig-like effect in the playoffs for the eventual World Series champion Anaheim Angels. With his on-field antics and lightning quick fastball, he became a bit of cult hero for the Angels, winning five postseason games that year. At just under 21 years old, he was the youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game.
When veteran closer Troy Percival left the Angels in 2005, K-Rod took over the role; he ended the season with an AL high 45 saves. It was in September of 2006 that he became the youngest pitcher in baseball history to notch 100 saves at just 24 years old. A 4-time All Star, Rodriguez was on the hill to close it out at the 2007 game in San Francisco, a 5-4 victory for the American League. Over those few years, however, he did have his postseason struggles, especially in 2007 when he pitched just 1/3 of an inning for the Angels, who were swept in three games by the eventual World Series Champion Red Sox in the division series.
Even though the Angels didn’t make the World Series in 2008, it was a magical season for Rodriguez. He recorded 62 saves in 69 opportunities, a record that has yet to be broken. During that season, he set a number of new marks, including saves before the All Star Break (35) & became just the 9th player to collect at least 50 saves in a season. He also snagged his 200th save on September 4th, 2008. He finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting & 6th in the MVP voting.
Rodriguez signed a large contract with the New York Mets during the off-season, but was never able to sustain the incredible success he had with the Angels, though he save 35 games in 42 opportunities in 2009. Traded to Milwaukee in 2011, Rodriguez has done a good amount of bouncing around in the bullpen, but has pitched well for an inconsistent team the past couple of seasons, including 10 saves in 10 chances this season. He is only 31 years old, with much less wear on his arm than a starting pitcher of his age & experience.
In return, the Orioles shipped minor league infielder Nick Delmonico to Milwaukee. A 6th round pick of the Orioles in 2011, Delmonico was rated as the team’s 4th best minor league prospect and was batting .244 for Class-A Frederick. There was some question as to why the team would deviate from their norm of not trading prospects to give up a young minor leaguer with upside for middle reliever, but the team desperately needed another right-hander in the bullpen after the departures of Pedro Strop and Luis Ayala. Rodriguez is a proven veteran with extensive postseason experience who won’t be intimated jumping into the middle of a pennant race. There was never a question about Delmonico’s ability at the plate and his baseball IQ, but his below average defense & injury history made him expendable. An added perk of this trade comes from the rumblings that Boston, in serious need of bullpen stability with their injury plagued starting pitching, had major interest in Rodriguez, so management has snagged a key piece from the grips of a division rival.
Rodriguez does bring with him to Baltimore some significant, controversial baggage. He was arrested on two different occasions, in 2010 and 2012, on charges of assault & domestic violence. In 2010, while with the New York Mets, Rodriguez was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend’s father, whom he alleged had made disparaging remarks about his mother. He was sentenced to one year of anger management classes. The confrontation caused damage in this thumb of his throwing hand and he missed the rest of the 2010 season. In Wisconsin in September 2012, Rodriguez was charged with domestic violence for allegedly assaulting a different girlfriend, the mother of one of his children. Rodriguez’s girlfriend and his housekeeper (the only other witness to the alleged assault) went back to Venezuela before the case could be pursued any further.
There is an irony that stems from the trade being finalized on the same day that another Milwaukee Brewer, embattled outfielder Ryan Braun, is suspended for the remainder of the season without pay for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. While this trade may be a rental for the Orioles (Rodriguez is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season), it does show the commitment of management to continue finding pieces within the team’s price range to set up for a deep run into the playoffs. Rodriguez is set to join the team in Kansas City either today or tomorrow and should available for the upcoming weekend series agains the Red Sox.
(disclaimer: Birdswatcher does not, in any way, condone any of Rodriguez’s off the field actions during his time with the Mets & Brewers. He faced the appropriate legal & civil ramifications for his behavior, agreed upon by the parties & approved by the prosecutions in both cases).