The Cardinals will be sporting a revamped bullpen in 2006 due to the departures of Julian Tavarez, Al Reyes, Cal Eldred, and Ray King. Walt Jocketty and Tony La Russa have indicated this off-season that the team will carry seven relievers this coming season. Newcomers Braden Looper and Ricardo Rincon will combine with 2005 holdovers Brad Thompson, Randy Flores, and closer Jason Isringhausen to fill five of the seven available bullpen spots.
Two more bullpen spots remain open at this time and the top in house candidates to fill those spots would include Dennis Tankersley, John Riedling, Carmen Cali, Tyler Johnson, and Rule 5 draft pick Juan Mateo. While these five relievers are not exciting options it is very possible that the Cardinals could use some combination of the five to effectively fill one bullpen spot. Assuming that two of these players can step up and contribute to a championship caliber team might be overly optimistic, hence creating a need to sign an established reliever. Enter Felix Rodriguez.
Walt Jocketty has been quoted in the Post Dispatch saying “We're still strongly interested in (Felix) Rodriguez, but I don't see us doing anything until after Jan. 1”
It is rare that the stealth-like Jocketty says publicly that he is strongly interested in a specific player unless he plans to sign that player soon. Rodriguez makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals and I would not be surprised to see him sign with the Redbirds.
Let’s take a look at what Felix Rodriguez or “F-Rod” would bring to the table in St. Louis.
Rodriguez is a 33-year-old right hander with a career record of 37-25 with a 3.51 ERA.
Rodriguez mainly uses two pitches- a four seam fastball that tops out at 96 mph, combined with a slightly above average slider that he uses to keeps hitters honest. Most Cardinals fans will remember F-Rod from the 2002 NLCS when he posted a 1.93 ERA in four games against the Redbirds helping the Giants to reach the World Series.
Over the last three seasons Rodriguez has shown he still has the goods, posting a 3.57 ERA with four saves and 44 holds in 160 innings pitched. Last season Rodriguez struggled a bit posting a 5.01 ERA in 32.1 innings for the New York Yankees. Some of Rodriguez’ struggles last season could have been a result of a fluke injury he suffered, tearing cartilage in his left knee when stepping out of the shower. After missing over two months with the injury, Rodriguez returned on July 19th and pitched 21.2 innings to close out the season for the Yankees.
Scouts have said that Rodriguez has “closer stuff” but he struggles with his control at times preventing him from being a legitimate closer. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan is well-documented for having success working with hard-throwing veterans and F-Rod fits the profile of a player who could be productive under Duncan’s supervision.
Jocketty likely sees a bargain in Rodriguez because he is coming off a down year and he is very capable of a bounce-back season in 2006. This off-season has seen relievers of Rodriguez’ caliber command $3 to $4 million dollars annually in multi-year deals. Jocketty might be able to find a bargain if he can sign Rodriguez to one year deal for around $2 million dollars. Rodriguez might want more than a one year deal because of his history of success and the Cardinals could be willing to add an option year and incentives to make the deal more appealing. It would seem that two years and $5 million dollars would be as far as the Cardinals would be willing to offer, and that should be enough to bring F-Rod to the Gateway city.
Overall, Felix Rodriguez would be nice fit in the Cardinals bullpen as a veteran presence who is capable of getting outs in the late innings.