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Trading Places: K-Rod Heads to Milwaukee
Dan Port | Wednesday July 13th, 2011
K-Rod will bolster the Milwaukee bullpen. (Icon SMI)
K-Rod will bolster the Milwaukee bullpen. (Icon SMI)
Less than two hours after Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder led the National League to victory in the 2011 MLB All-Star Game, his team completed a stunning trade by acquiring Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez.  In exchange for the 29 year-old righthander known as K-Rod, the Brewers will send two players to be named and will receive cash to offset some of Rodriguez's salary.

Rodriguez joined the Mets via free agency for the 2009 season and for parts of his career he has been among the game's best late-inning stoppers.  In 2008, he set the major league record with 62 saves for the Los Angeles Angels, but his time in New York has been somewhat inconsistent.  This year, he has a 3.16 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings of work, but he's also allowing a career-high rate of baserunners, as evidenced by his 1.41 WHIP.

There are several fascinating aspects of this trade, including the clause in Rodriguez's contract that will activate a $17.5 million option for 2012 if he finishes 55 games this year. (Source: MLBTradeRumors.com).  Rodriguez has already finished 34 games this season and, because of this, it's very likely that the Brewers will avoid that guaranteed money by keeping incumbent closer John Axford as the primary endgame option.  According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Mets will pay the full $5 million of Rodriguez's remaining 2011 salary and the Brewers will just be responsible for the $3.5 million buyout, as long as Rodriguez doesn't guarantee that $17.5 million option for next year by finishing 21 games between now and the end of the current regular season.

Another interesting aspect of this trade is Milwaukee's decision to deal two players from its minor league affiliates, a system already very depleted from off-season trades for starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.  The caliber of the players dealt to the Mets are not yet known, but if one or both of them are among the club's better prospects, this deal could further cripple an already weak crop of young talent.

For the Brewers, this trade shores up a shaky bullpen that currently ranks 20th in the majors with a 3.97 ERA and has had to rely on late-inning rallies for recent victories.  Relievers Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins have been effective setup men for Axford, but they've both missed time due to injury and are not ideal workhorses at 41 and 38 years old, respectively.  Righthander Kameron Loe, who thrived as Milwaukee's top setup man last season, hasn't been nearly as reliable this year and it's very possible that his rough outings over the last few weeks (and a 5.50 ERA since the start of June) motivated Tuesday night's move.

From a fantasy standpoint, Francisco Rodriguez's value falls dramatically if he is no longer a closer, and, according to Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt, the Brewers will not let Rodriguez finish enough games to hit his $17.5 million 2012 option.  Axford will remain the closer, with Rodriguez as the primary setup man but filling in as necessary.

The next biggest fantasy baseball effect of this deal will be on the Mets bullpen.  The club will likely turn to 26 year-old righthander Bobby Parnell as the new closer, though he's not the only late-game option.  In 24 2/3 innings of work this season, Parnell has tallied a 2.92 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and 30 strikeouts.  It's also possible that 38 year-old veteran Jason Isringhausen will see some time as the club's stopper, particularly since he has a lot of past closing experience.

Overall, this trade was a surprising move and contributed to a news-filled evening for the National League, who defeated the American League 5 to 1.
Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.