One year later, K-Rod replaces John Axford as closer

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6:15 p.m. EDT update: Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made it official today, saying Francisco Rodriguez would replace John Axford in the closer’s role for now.

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When the Brewers acquired Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets last July 12, they knew he wanted to close and tried to placate him by saying he and John Axford would be co-closers. Of course, that never materialized, and K-Rod ended up going without a save in 31 appearances during the second half of the save.

Now, one year later, K-Rod over Axford looks like a real possibility. Axford, who was stellar in racking up an NL-high 46 saves last year, blew his sixth save and took his sixth loss when he gave up three runs in the ninth Monday against the Cardinals. In his defense, none of the three hits he gave up were all that well struck. However, he put himself in a bad situation by walking two batters.

K-Rod hasn’t exactly been stellar himself, but he did pitch his fifth straight scoreless inning Monday. The stretch has lowered his ERA from 4.17  to 3.67. Axford is currently sitting at 5.35.

It’d be an interesting switch for the 42-47 Brewers. Rodriguez is a definite candidate to be traded if Milwaukee deems itself out of contention, and he’d likely be more attractive to suitors if he picked up a few saves over the next couple of weeks. He’s someone who could also potentially be moved in August, given his $8 million salary.

On the other hand, the Brewers are still hoping Axford is their long-term closer, and it wouldn’t be sending him a very good message to pull him in favor of someone who could be dealt at any time. If the Brewers do make the switch, they should advertise as a short-term move and tell Axford he’ll get his job back if he performs.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.