The Orioles traded struggling prospect Nick Delmonico for Brewers reliever (and sometimes closer) Francisco Rodriguez last night. Rodriguez, commonly known as "K-Rod" from his days as a big-strikeout elite closer in Anaheim and New York, is coming over to add a right-handed power arm to the Orioles bullpen for the stretch run. Let's take a look at what we might expect from Francisco Rodriguez for the last 60-ish games of the season.
Francisco Rodriguez brings the heat. K-Rod comes to the Orioles with a 10.9 K/9 rate for his career, and a 9.5 rate this season. Orioles fans can expect plenty of big swing-and-miss at-bats when K-Rod is on the mound.
Francisco Rodriguez might regress a little bit. Although he's pitched to a 1.09 ERA this year, Rodriguez's FIP and xFIP numbers (which are designed to remove defense and luck from the equation) are much higher, just a shade under 4. And K-Rod isn't one of those guys who has a long, steady career of outperforming his FIP. So if more of the balls in play against K-Rod become hits, he might not be quite as lights-out as he was in Milwaukee. That doesn't mean he won't be a useful piece of the bullpen (especially compared to Jairo Asencio, who he most likely displaces in the Orioles bullpen), but it does mean that expectations should be tempered.
Francisco Rodriguez could be the eighth-inning guy. The Orioles have mixed up their use of Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz as a bridge to Jim Johnson in the ninth. With Hunter's struggles lately and K-Rod's whole career of late-inning expertise, it seems highly likely that the setup job is Rodriguez's to lose once he comes to Baltimore.
Francisco Rodriguez could back up the closer's role. Jim Johnson has gone through his share of struggles this year, after a shutdown 2012 where a ninth inning lead was a nearly automatic Orioles win. If Johnson goes through another brutal stretch like his four consecutive blown saves in June, K-Rod has proven that he can take the ball to cover a late lead, even as recently as this season, during some fill-in time for the Brewers.
Francisco Rodriguez has a history of off-field issues. From an assault conviction against his girlfriend's father, to a domestic violence charge that was later dropped, to a scuffle with an opposing pitcher during batting practice, there's enough smoke around K-Rod to make me think that there's fire. I just hope he's not a clubhouse issue in a group of Orioles who seem to genuinely enjoy playing alongside one another. If nothing else, it makes it a little harder for me personally to root for his success.
Francisco Rodriguez probably doesn't change a lot. The Orioles didn't give up a ton of potential value to obtain K-Rod, and well they shouldn't have, because typically adding a reliever in late July isn't the kind of thing that changes a team's fate. K-Rod could be a nice complementary piece, but at best he's probably worth an extra win over Asencio or someone similar. If Hunter or Johnson collapse and K-Rod takes their place, the difference is bigger, but it's still unlikely to change the fate of the 2013 Orioles.
All in all, it's hard for me to feel passionately either way about this trade. For every positive thought I have about it ("Hey, K-Rod is pretty good!" or "K-Rod's an emergency closer!"), I have a corresponding negative one ("This guy was almost out of baseball three months ago" or "Great, now I have to cheer for an alleged wife-beater"). I continue to place my trust in the master plan of Dan Duquette, but this team is going to have to sink or swim on the roster it had before the K-Rod trade. Orioles fans just need to hope this is a nice complementary piece and doesn't end up as any kind of distraction.