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(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)
With the Super Bowl and the NFL season now in the rearview mirror, the focus really turns towards baseball season and the rapidly approaching pitcher and catcher report dates. Yankee pitchers and catchers are less than 2 weeks from reporting to the ST complex in Tampa, and while the team has more than enough catchers to fit their needs, they still lack bullpen depth. There's no shortage of cheap, quad-A types getting an invite to camp to compete for a spot, but in their heart of hearts I think both Cash and Joe would like to have another proven Major League arm in the mix.
Yesterday, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe ran his usual Sunday MLB round-up article, and at the very end of it he connected the Yankees to free agent reliever Fernando Rodney. It's admittedly a very loose connection, more of a suggestion than anything, as Cafardo only said that "a team like the Yankees may pluck Rodney, or someone of his ilk, to ensure they have another closer in case Dave Robertson breaks down or isn’t up to the task." This isn't much different than the other rumors we've heard about Rodney and the crop of similar relief FAs in regards to the Yankees, but looking a little closer at both sides' situations, there may be a greater match than people realize.
At age 36, and turning 37 before the start of this season, Rodney is no spring chicken. He's had an 11-year career that's seen him bounce between a variety of relief roles, low-rung middle relief to setup man to closer for the Rays the last 2 years. At this point, he's seen and done it all in the bullpen world and that combination of experience and role flexibility would make him an ideal candidate to slide into the Yankees' middle relief mix. He'd provide insurance for both Shawn Kelley in the setup role and David Robertson in the closer role at the very least, and he could prove to be a better setup option than Kelley.
While Rodney's command took a step back to reality in 2013, it was no better or worse than it's been for the majority of his career (11.4% BB rate). And walk concerns aside, the rest of Rodney's game fits well to what the Yankees look for. He still generates plenty of swings and misses with his 3-pitch mix (28.3% K rate in 2013), mainly because he still throws his 4-seamer and 2-seamer in the mid-90s. This allows him to maximize the effectiveness of his changeup by maintaining a high gap in velocity and the change remains his most effective pitch. He's had a GB rate above 50.0% in each of the last 5 seasons, his HR/FB rate has been pretty modest since 2010 (the year he started working the 2-seamer into his repertoire), and he has plenty of experience pitching in pressure situations and the AL East.
There's more good to bad when it comes to Rodney, which is why it's somewhat puzzling that he's still available. He was most likely holding out for a closer job somewhere, but if a team hasn't signed him for that job at this point it's not going to happen. The Yankees could probably land him on a 1-year deal right now, and money is no longer a concern for them after blowing through the LT ceiling with the Tanaka signing. He'd give them the added boost of depth and experience their bullpen needs at little to no risk, and like Rafael Soriano, Kerry Wood, and Kyle Farnsworth before him, Rodney could turn a 1-year audition as the setup man/occasional closer for the Yankees into a more lucrative offer from another club next offseason.
Rodney and the Yankees both have needs right now, and both sides seem very well matched to help meet each other's needs. On a 1-year deal, there's really no downside for the Yankees. They get a proven commodity with plenty of late-game experience to lengthen their middle relief, they get a reliable backup closer option in case something happens to D-Rob, and they don't have to hope and pray as hard for someone like Dellin Betances or Robert Coello to step up and provide a full season's worth of above-average bullpen production. If there's any amount of truth to Cafardo's speculative statement, here's hoping the Yanks are serious about pursuing Rodney. I know about the facial hair and I really don't care how he wears his hat. I just want a better setup option than Kelley and Claiborne.