So, I don't like the trade.
I think what bothers me most is not that we gave up a B+ prospect to get Rodriguez ... it's specifically WHO we gave up. Delmonico represents everything that is right about the direction of the Orioles over the past two years ... he's a high-OBP guy, he was an over-slot signing (meaning we invested heavily in that draft and we got value later in the draft because we were willing to spend money -- for the people who talk about Angelos not spending money, he spent where he should have spent and Delmonico rewarded a somewhat risky signing), and he was developing into one of the best young hitters around. The Orioles gave up their biggest under-the-radar, undervalued, break-out, high-ceiling prospect to get two months of a relief pitcher who four months ago was signed to a minor-league deal, and whose peripheral statistics show that he is not nearly as good as what most people will think he is.
This is a move for the playoffs, and it's a move that playoff teams make. It's a move to get to the playoffs, but more importantly, this move helps to shorten the baseball game for the starters during the stretch run and in the playoffs. It shows tremendous faith in the current roster for this year ... faith in the offense to continue producing at an elite level, in the starters to get into the sixth inning every day and give the team a chance to win. It shows tremendous faith in guys like Hunter, O'Day and Matusz to come into games in the 6th and 7th inning and get high-leverage outs, while banking on K-Rod and Johnson to be clean in the ninth inning. It means that we really have no weakness in the bullpen at this point, which is significant.
Three things that I like: (1) Rodriguez is an excellent value for the money he is being paid; and (2) Rodriguez is only 31 years old (despite having a ton of MLB experience, high-leverage experience, and post-season experience).
Three things that I do not like: (1) K-Rod's peripherals are FAR worse than his actual numbers -- he is much more like a 3.5+ ERA pitcher (3.09 FIP, 3.73 xFIP) than the elite reliever who most people think we are getting and he absolutely, statistically, is due for a regression from that "1.09" ERA he is sporting (and that regression WILL come with the Orioles, regardless of whether he is productive and effective) -- he is an extreme flyball pitcher, and that will NOT go well in Camden Yards (2) we VASTLY over-paid in giving up Delmonico to get him, and (3) there is no team control past October. A bonus "thing that I do not like" is that it IMMEDIATELY creates a closer conflict the very moment Jim Johnson puts his next guy on base ... Guys like Maybe already think that K-Rod will be closing games for the O's; people already complain that JJ is "not a real closer," despite being one of the most successful and productive closers in baseball over the past two seasons (cumulatively). This ads controversy, and it adds a poor character guy (one who, in the past, has gotten into trouble very publicly for domestic violence).
One potential outcome is that the Orioles are able to negotiate an extension with K-Rod in the ~$3-4 million per season range for 2-3 years and trade Jim Johnson for high value this off-season (because quite simply, we cannot afford to keep him and offer Wieters and Davis the extensions they have coming), and then let K-Rod and Hunter duke it out in spring training for the closer job. This is pure, unadulterated speculation, but it would be a way to get back some of the value we lost in Delmonico.
Again, I am upset over specifically WHO we gave up and that we over-paid ... not that we gave up talent to get help. Some folks can accuse guys like me -- "prospect" guys -- of overvaluing our own talent, and taking harsh stances any time the O's give up something of value. I understand as much as the next guy that it takes value to get value, and that there is some value in what K-Rod brings to the Orioles.
It's also interesting that some people talk about trusting the organization to develop more guys like Delmonico, but I feel like those people are swinging and missing on that argument. Delmonico's strengths aren't about development -- that's my whole point. The things that Delmonico does well are NOT the "developmental" things, they are the natural things. Pitch recognition and patience are -- by virtually ALL of the studies done on them -- not learned, they are somewhat natural or innate. These are things that players either do well, or do not do well, and they manifest themselves at about THIS developmental level (high-A ball). You can develop power, you can develop contact skills, you can develop defense ... objectively, you can't develop pitch recognition. Just ask Adam Jones.
Realistically, Delmonico likely would be ready in 2-3 years. Also, realistically, he is a first baseman, DH, or left fielder. Importantly, we need all three of those things in that 2-4 year time frame, and I completely disagree with the folks who are saying that Delmonico is "blocked" within the organization. He's a B+ prospect because he's terrible defensively and because his power development is questionable. The thing is, those things just flat-out don't matter that much. Defense is important, but substantially less important than getting on base. Power is important, but substantially less important than getting on base. THAT is why is is undervalued, because despite all of the "Moneyball" movies in the world, some people STILL do not understand how important getting on base is in baseball -- or at the very least, some people do not accept that it is the single most important thing that any player can do, or ability a player can have. Delmonico does that one thing at an elite level, it just so happens that the one thing he does at an elite level is the single most important thing that any baseball player can do; he was in the organization, now he's not.
It's important not to undervalue B+ prospects. What's more, Delmonico wasn't just a B+ prospect, he was a B+ prospect who did ALL of the right things. The only reason that he was not an A- or A prospect was because some folks don't believe that his power will develop (and these people over-value power relative to on-base ability), and because he doesn't have much of a position home right now (but he will be a first baseman or a left fielder long-term). The Nolan Reimold comp is actually a REALLY good one ... not because Reimold failed, but because Reimold (in many ways) represents exactly the kind of player that good teams develop. The EXACT reason you keep Delmonico is because some guys do fail, some guys get really unlucky, some guys get hurt -- like Reimold, who was all three -- and that you need as many of these kinds of players as you can get.
By all accounts, Delmonico was Melvin's guy. He was THE player Melvin wanted in return for K-Rod, and he wanted Delmonico over anybody the Tigers have or the Rangers were willing to discuss. That's interesting to me, and I still think it was a pretty big over-pay -- Melvin sold REALLY high, and got the best possible value for a MiL contract pitcher (albeit one with a decent MLB history). I strongly dislike that K-Rod is an extreme flyball pitcher whose peripheral stats show him as more of a 3.5 ERA pitcher ... that means he WILL regress in Camden Yards, and will not benefit from the O's outstanding infield defense.
If K-Rod pitches well, if he effectively shortens games to 7 innings (locking down the 8th, with JJ locking down the 9th), leaving O'Day, Hunter and Matusz to work the 6th and 7th (and I like those odds), then acquiring him is a solid move. Strop gave us that much of last year, and it was HUGELY valuable; Hunter has given us that for much of this year, but K-Rod definitely is a quality reliever (even if he's not as good as most people think he is, based on the ERA-type statistics) and has the high-leverage experience to fit on a playoff team.
As of right now, K-Rod's xFIP is nearly identical this year to what it was last year. His fWAR is virtually identical this year to what it was last year -- .3 wins. Statistically ... last year he had a 4.38 ERA (3.83 FIP and 3.71 xFIP) and got released, and this year he a very similar pitcher.
The ONLY difference between his stats last year and this year is that last year, more of his fly balls left the yard (12.8% last year compared to 6.7 this year -- the 6.7% is much more in line with his career norms). Thus far this season, hitters have hit .250 against him on balls in play ... for his career, hitters have hit .276 against him on balls in play, and last year hitters hit .296 off of him on balls in play. The .250 is unsustainable, because it is grossly out of line (in a small sample size) from what he has done in his entire career, and what the league averages are. Regression is a real thing. This means that he has been INCREDIBLY lucky this year, and was very unlucky last year. This means that he is not the pitcher that he appears to be, regardless of whether they "love what they scouted." This stuff is important. Honestly, this stuff is important.
So what will happen when that 28.3 ground ball rate results in a couple of game-tying or game-winning home runs at Camden Yards? K-Rod is Tommy Hunter 2.0 (or Hunter is K-Rod 2.0), for better or for worse -- an extreme flyball pitcher playing in a hitter's park, who gets a lot of Ks. In short, we already had K-Rod ... and we gave up a REALLY REALLY good, and REALLY REALLY under-valued prospect to get another one.
Factually, we over-paid by giving up an under-valued prospect for an over-valued relief pitcher (a guy who is not nearly as good as his ERA seems to indicate). Not to belabor a point, and perhaps that ship has sailed if you've gotten this far, but this is what bad teams do, or what really really deep teams do. We're not a really really deep team, and we got much less deep by trading Delmonico.
As many have said, though, ultimately it still is all about the starting pitching. We'll go as far as they can take us. I just absolutely am not convinced that K-Rod makes us that much better. My opinion is that this was a bad, unnecessary trade. It has some benefit, and K-Rod absolutely is not a bad pitcher (and is a productive addition to the bullpen), but we lost FAR more than we gained.