Apparently eager to appease newcomer Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday that he intends to employ K-Rod and John Axford as co-closers.
If the Brewers were to have Rodriguez and Axford split save chances equallyfor the rest of the season, then they wouldn’t have to worry about Rodriguez getting the 21 games finished he needs to guarantee his $17.5 million option for 2012. As the Mets’ full-time closer, Rodriguez had 34 games finished during the first half of the season.
Still, there’s no way this really makes sense. Rodriguez and Axford are very similar pitchers, so there’s not going to be any playing matchups with them. It’s true that Rodriguez has been quite a bit better against righties than lefties this season, whereas Axford has been superior against lefties, but nothing in either’s career splits suggests the disparity will continue.
And there’s one big risk in employing Rodriguez as a co-closer right now: if he racks up say 10 games finished over the next six weeks and then Axford gets hurt, the Brewers will have no real choice but to employ K-Rod as their full-time closer and risk having that option year vest.
So, this is probably just politics. Axford is 23-for-25 saving games this year and has done nothing to deserve to lose his job. K-Rod will close when Axford needs a blow, but it doesn’t seem at all likely that we’ll see Axford in the eighth and Rodriguez in the ninth with any regularity.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.