Free agent Rodney an interesting test case for the value of saves and closers

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After six years spent as a mostly mediocre setup man Fernando Rodney picked a perfect season to become a full-time closer and go 37-for-38 converting saves, because now he’s hitting the open market as a free agent with his value at an all-time high.
However, look past the saves and Rodney really wasn’t all that great this season, posting a 4.40 ERA and sub par 61/41 K/BB ratio in 75.2 innings. Those numbers basically match his career totals coming into the year, which included a 4.25 ERA and 253/129 K/BB ratio in 254 frames.
Will blowing just one save in 38 tries make Rodney an “established closer” in the minds of teams looking for bullpen help this offseason? Or will most teams focus on his ability rather than his save totals and see someone who’s probably better suited for seventh-inning duties?
Rodney will be an interesting test case for how big-league front offices value saves and the closer role in general. For his part, the 32-year-old right-hander has made it very clear that he’d like to remain in Detroit:

I want to come back to the Tigers. Detroit is the first team I will talk to, but right now, I have to wait. I want them to call me and ask me to sign. I want three years, maybe four [years], but I don’t know how it will work out.

I’m sure that general manager Dave Dombrowski would be open to re-signing Rodney, but the odds of Detroit handing him a deal for “three years, maybe four” years seems highly unlikely. Dombrowski and the Tigers should know better than anyone that he’s never been a consistently excellent reliever. This season’s save totals are nice, but any team paying Rodney for going 37-for-38 figures to be very disappointed at the end of the contract.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.