Last offseason the Mariners were hell bent on adding a closer. Tom Wilhelmsen had suffered an unexpected implosion in the 2013 season, and the team had an established late inning reliever near the top of their wish list. The team signed Fernando Rodney to a two year deal, and Rodney was pretty amazing in 2014, all things considered.
Of course, he made things more interesting than necessary some of the time. Rodney’s propensity to allow baserunners in critical situations, only to throw down a proverbial smoke bomb and emerge unharmed was uncanny, but ultimately probably not sustainable. Rodney’s nearly four walks per nine innings are a concern, and save for an inexplicable sub-2.0-BB/9 performance in 2012, walks have plagued Rodney for his entire career. Rodney was who he always has been in 2014 – which despite the general snark of this post, is actually a pretty good reliever.
Perhaps the most important phenomena in 2014, even more important than the contributions of Robinson Cano, the great season turned in by Felix Hernandez, and the Fernando Rodney Experience, was the Mariners bullpen being collectively dominant. The team has seven regular relievers with an xFIP under 3.60 (league average is about 3.67 for relievers). The team converted Brandon Maurer, once a top tier starter prospect, into a guy that looks like he could be the most dominant reliever the Mariners have had in a long time. Dominic Leone and Carson Smith are two guys who seem like they could be pretty good, and both are basically free and will be cheap for a long time. Tom Wilhelmsen’s career appears revived to a degree, and Charlie Furbush remains absolutely suffocating to left-handed batters.
So understand, when I say that the Mariners don’t need Fernando Rodney, it’s not coming strictly from my bias against high-priced relievers. The Mariners have assembled a stable of relievers that cost almost nothing, and it’s almost unquestionable that the Mariners have options that are better than the enigmatic Rodney.
One of the key trades that garnered Jack Zduriencik early praise in his tenure in Seattle was the trade of J.J. Putz which brought Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas to Seattle. Some front offices value high-leverage relievers higher than they should, a condition that the Mariners took advantage of in the case of Putz, but a condition that is somewhat self-regulating, as these front offices are usually disbanded by way of termination after a short reign.
That doesn’t mean the Mariners shouldn’t shop Rodney though. There hasn’t been a high-profile closer traded in the offseason apart from the trade that sent Jim Johnson to the Oakland A’s for Jemile Weeks before 2014, but the Tigers sent rising prospect Jake Thompson to the Rangers in the middle of the 2014 season for Joakim Soria. The Rockies traded Huston Street to the Angels for four prospects, including a guy at the bottom of Baseball America’s top 100 and a couple other promising inexperienced prospects.
It is likely that keeping Rodney offers the Mariners no surplus value. They have a surplus in their bullpen, and while quality arms are an asset for which there is no upper limit in terms of quantity, trading away one who will make more than the other six quality relievers combined makes sense. The Mariners may be able to acquire a couple quality arms to cycle into the stable into the future and then some, and could probably do it at essentially no loss of present value.