Earlier today, the Brewers sent Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers for second base prospect Javier Betancourt and a player to be named later. It was a trade that seemed inevitable, though came as a bit of a surprise since we hadn't even heard any rumors about it. With the trade complete, the Brewers will get several benefits out of it, some which will help the team immediately and some that will help a few years down the road.
First, the trade brings in some depth for the infield, specifically the second base position. Javier Betancourt was named eight on Baseball Prospectus' list of Tigers prospects, so it's a prospect with some potential there. There's also a PTBNL, which typically is just a lottery ticket, but sometimes those hit the jackpot (the common example is Michael Brantley to the Indians). For a rebuilding team, any extra prospects is always nice. It would have been better to see a higher return, but considering Rodriguez's salary and past issues, getting something here is good.
Second, this opens up the closer role for next season. Rodriguez earned 38 of the team's 40 saves in 2015 (with the other two going to Kyle Lohse), and finished 55 games in total. That spot is now open for someone else to take, and there will be no shortage of candidates for it next spring. The two names that will probably be the top candidates are Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress. Both were among the leaders in bullpen appearances last year, so they already have manager Craig Counsell's trust. In addition, Michael Blazek and Corey Knebel will probably be considered as well. Blazek was lights out before an injury ended his season, and Knebel did well in his first full year in the majors. If I had to pick right now, I'd say the favorite will be Smith, but it wouldn't surprise me if any of those four was named the closer (or if a closer by committee approach was used).
In addition, this also opens up an extra spot in the bullpen for next season. As of right now, the four players mentioned above (Smith, Jefress, Blazek, Knebel) appear to have spots locked up. After that, there are at least three open spots available. One or two of those will go to internal candidates, but don't be surprised to see a free agent brought in (though on a much smaller contract than Rodriguez was on). That will create an extra competition this spring.
Third, this clears more payroll for next season. The Tigers appear to be absorbing all of Rodriguez's remaining contract in the trade, which will provide $5.5 million in savings in 2016 and at least another $2 million in 2017 (option buyout) and 2018 (deferred 2016 salary). Payroll wasn't a big concern in making this trade, but the fact that the Brewers won't have to deal with any extra money going to Rodriguez will be helpful in future contracts.
Fourth, this clears a 40-man roster spot. With Rule 5 protection picks coming up, the Brewers will have to make decisions on which minor league players to protect and which to leave vulnerable to the Rule 5 draft. According to Brewers.com, the team currently has 34 spaces filled. That will leave six spots open for adding minor-league players. (We will have another article later this week to discuss who those players could be.)
Finally, this trade removes a player from the team whose character has not been good. With the focus on domestic violence prevention growing, having a character like Rodriguez on the team, who has been involved with at least two previous incidents, was not something that many fans wanted to deal with. Many fans will be happy to have him gone for that reason alone. There's no way to know if those off the field incidents affected his value at all, but it wouldn't be surprising to hear that his value was lower because of that.
There's no denying that Francisco Rodriguez is a talented reliever. His results over his career prove that, and he has the potential to continue to close for several more years. However, with the Brewers facing a rebuild, a closer of that caliber was a luxury that they did not need anymore. With questions surrounding his character and the Brewers needing to build for two to three years down the road, it was time to move on from Rodriguez.