Even before July 6th, the day Andrew Miller took the tumble that resulted in a season-ending injury, the Red Sox were in need of reinforcements in the bullpen. The loss of the upstart relief ace was a big loss on top of that, though, as Miller had been surprisingly successful this season with a 164 ERA+ that was helped out by over 14 strikeouts per nine innings. When the injury happened, much of the attention went to the fact that Miller was a lefty, and the Red Sox would need to bring in another one to fill that hole. They did so soon after, sending Brandon Jacobs to Chicago in exchange for LOOGY Matt Thornton. Saying Miller was only a left-handed arm sells short what he meant for this team, though, as he was a late-inning pitcher who could come in regardless of the handedness of the opposing batters. This season, he pitched against eleven more right-handed batters than lefties, and was actually much better against the righties. While Thornton was a fine player to trade for, they still need to replace Miller's electricity, and Francisco Rodriguez could be the perfect guy to make that happen.
Since bursting onto the scene in Anaheim the year in 2002 when they won the World Series, Rodriguez has been one of the top relief pitchers in the game. He was given the nickname K-Rod for his propensity for strikeouts, and that has been a skill that he hasn't lost as of yet in his career. In the last three season, the Brewers' reliever has struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings, and a total of 25 percent of the batters he has faced. Just this season, he has rebounded from a rare average season in 2012 to a 1.14 ERA (350 ERA+!) in 23-2/3 innings with 9.9 K/9 and 3 BB/9. Even though it feels like he's been around forever, Rodriguez is still just 31 years old, and his velocity is still intact. Though his average fastball speed this season has been 91 MPH, he's been regularly hitting 93-94 on the gun, which is indicative of his 30 percent K-rate in the past month (12-1/3 innings).
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On top of his statistical positives, Rodriguez has a long history of pitching at the back end of the bullpen, and has been able to throw in multiple roles. Just this year, he's bounced between the closer role and a setup role in Milwaukee. As much as people, myself included, would like to see bullpens utilized in such a way that pitchers wouldn't be constrained to a specific role like that, it's the way it is right now. A lot of guys are a lot more comfortable being in a defined role, so it is nice to see that Rodriguez can handle switching between roles, since he's done so multiple times in his career. This is especially important for the Red Sox, who have Koji Uehara holding down the closer spot right now, but it would be nice to have someone who can step in and give the him a rest, as he's been used a ton so far this season.
There is no doubt that Rodriguez will be available this month, since the Brewers are clear sellers, and he is a free agent at the end of the season. While bullpen help is always at a premium this time of year, and there are sure to be multiple clubs calling Milwaukee's front office for K-Rod's services, he shouldn't have an exuberant price tag. The Red Sox are in a good position to give the Brewers the type of package that can win this sweepstakes, since they have a glut of players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter. The price would definitely be more than someone like Brandon Jacobs, but Cherington and company could surely part with a package of midlevel prospects, which should be enough for Rodriguez. Whatever the group of players is, it would be worth it as long as it doesn't involve any of their truly great prospects.
Despite all of the talk for the team needing starting pitching help, the back-end of the bullpen is still an area of great need if the Red Sox want to make a real run for the postseason. This need was apparent when Miller went down, and the recent news that Andrew Bailey may be out for the remainder of the season has only made the hole even bigger. As reliable as Craig Breslow has been this season, him being the third-best arm in the bullpen isn't great for this team, especially with Junichi Tazawa being as shaky as he's been as of late. Flipping some of their excess in the farm system for Francisco Rodriguez could be exactly what this bullpen needs. John Farrell always talked about how important it was to have someone like Miller in the bullpen, who could come in and get a strikeout or two to get out of jams. Well, Rodriguez is as close to Miller as they will be able to find on the market, and he's being made clearly available by the Brewers. It's up to Boston to get it done, and finally settle the needs that have been ailing the bullpen for over a month.
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