A shaky season, unsavory off-season behavior, a quiet free agency period, and a slow-moving visa application.
Those are the primary reasons (in no particular order) that caused some time off for the once-heralded closer Francisco Rodriguez. Now he has just ten days, give or take, to prove to the Milwaukee Brewers that he can make a difference in the Big League level once more.
The road back to the top of the heap is hard enough for a relief pitcher – even with the refined skill K-Rod has – but it’s made even harder when you have to start near the bottom. After the Milwaukee Brewers signed the 31 year-old Venezuela native in April, they would have 30 days to decide what to do with the man. The clock is still ticking, and just over a week is left for K-Rod to make an impression as he suits up with the Brevard County Manatees to begin the long road home.
While this is a very small window for Rodriguez, some would argue it’s far more than he deserves. We will leave his off-field behavior alone for the time being, though I’m sure it gave the Brewers a good bit of pause before deciding to sign him again.
The truth is, his on-field performance last year was enough to scare away 29 other teams looking for bullpen help. Rodriguez was all but unflappable in his career through 2011 when the Brewers picked him up at the All-Star break to help shut down teams in front of John Axford. But the next year, whether it was because Frankie was disillusioned at being a set-up pitcher or simply lost his way, he was featured prominently in one of the most spectacular bullpen disasters in years.
He managed three saves in 2012, but he was battered with a 4.38 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP, and had a BB/9 rate of 3.9. In short, disastrous.
Tonight, the reliever is in uniform with the Brevard County Manatees and can begin trying to undo all the damage done to his legacy. He’s still sitting on 294 saves, and there may be some gas left in his tank.
It’s a relatively low-risk move by the Brewers – if he pitches well and can slide into the bullpen, he could offer some relief to the struggling John Axford and the rest of the bullpen, with the added potential for a win here or there if we get the best-case scenario. If he can’t pull it together in High-A (or wherever else the Brewers send him in the next ten days) they part ways and no damage is done. Of course, that’s discounting the risk of Rodriguez imploding once he gets back to the Big Club, but it would appear that the Brewers have already taken that into account.
This has all the makings of one those classic baseball redemption tales. But with a very short leash, a more fickle-than-ever fan base, and a recent history of some very public downfalls, it’s up to Francisco himself to give it a happy ending.