Duquette Going for it with K-Rod Acquisition

Just when I thought I had sampled all that there is to experience with rooting for a winning team, last night’s trade of Nick Delmonico for Francisco Rodriguez was a reminder that this contending thing is still pretty new for Orioles fans.

One factor in being a contending team is that there is often a temptation or desire to trade a prospect with potential long-term value for a short-term solution.  In his one and a half years at the helm, Dan Duquette has largely avoided those sorts of deals.  He has traded non-prospect minor leaguers for spare parts (Taylor Teagarden, Dana Eveland) and even for short-term fixes before the trade deadline (Jim Thome).  Duquette has also traded major leaguers for major leaguers including the deals that netted the organization both Scott Feldman this season and Joe Saunders last season.  He’s made deals with a short-term outlook in mind, but has been careful not to give up any potential long-term value in doing so.

That changed yesterday when Duquette shipped Nick Delmonico to Milwaukee in exchange for Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez.  Delmonico was a consensus Top 5 organizational prospect this off season (our composite of various prospect rankings over the winter had him ranked 5th in the O’s org.)  The 20 year old landed on those lists after a strong rookie campaign for class A Delmarva in which he hit .249/.351/.411.  Playing in class A+ Frederick this season, Delmonico showed improved power (.469 SLG and .226 ISO) while maintaining a similar batting average and on base percentage.  He has missed time in both seasons and does not have a real defensive position (the O’s viewed as a first baseman this season) both of which were valid concerns, but did not overshadow Delmonico’s solid bat.  At 20 years old, he is young for his league and is more than holding his own.

  The Orioles acquired Francisco Rodriguez to fill their need for another late-inning right-handed reliever.

 The Orioles acquired Francisco Rodriguez to fill their need for another late-inning right-handed reliever.

On the other side of the trade is K-Rod.  The 31-year old single-season saves leader was unable to secure a job this winter until signing with the Brewers on a minor league deal in April.  His inability to secure a job was likely the combination of three elements.  First, Rodriguez has had some off-the-field incidents that damaged his reputation, the latest one being an alleged incident in which he reportedly kicked his girlfriend this past year (charges were eventually dropped).  The off-the-field issues certainly played some role in his remaining unemployed as he long as he did.  Secondly, Scott Boras serves as his agent and as everyone knows, Boras will hold out as long as necessary to get his client what he thinks he deserves.  K-Rod made $8 million for the Brewers in 2012 and Boras no doubt sought more for his client than a minor league deal potentially worth $2 million (which is what Rodriquez eventually settled for).  Third – and perhaps a somewhat distant third – is that Rodriguez had a down year in 2012 pitching to a 4.38 ERA with the Brewers.  Attitude concerns, money demands, and performance all might have played a factor in him staying on the market so long.

Regardless, K-Rod did sign and made it to the Majors in May where he has posted a 1.09 ERA in 24 2/3’s innings.  He struck out 26.8% of the batters he faced so far this season while maintaining a very solid 1.054 WHIP.  Since he signed a minor league deal, he is a free agent after this season and is almost certainly a two+ month rental out of the bullpen.

It is as clear as can be that this is a legitimate prospect-for-hired gun swap.  It is something that we haven’t seen yet from Dan Duquette and something that Orioles fans haven’t seen from the organization at all in quite a while.  It is a risk – a significant gamble – in sending a 20 year-old position player who is a legitimate prospect to another team in exchange for two months of a relief pitcher.  It is the kind of move that contending clubs make.  It is the kind of move that sometimes works, sometimes blows up in the team’s face, and much of the time ends up a complete wash.

Regardless of what happens, Duquette signaled with this trade that he means business.  He thinks the club has a legitimate shot at reaching the playoffs and beyond.  With this trade, he is signaling that he believes the team’s chances are good enough that he is willing to give up a true prospect and take the associated risk that comes with that in order to improve the odds.

As an Orioles fan, it is hard not to be encouraged by the message that this move sends.  No, it is not Cliff Lee or another front line starter, but only the most cynical Orioles fans wouldn’t see the acquisition of K-Rod as a sign that Duquette is going for it.

The Orioles had a glaring need for a right-handed reliever.  Jairo Asencio was sparsely used while Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day, and Tommy Hunter have been spread thin.  K-Rod gives Buck another very good right-handed arm (with limited platoon splits) to use for one-inning late in the game.  If Rodriquez pitches like has been pitching, he appears to be the final stabilizing piece to an already decent bullpen.  If the Birds are playoff bound, they will need to lock down leads late and K-Rod can do that.  Giving up a prospect like Delmonico in order to improve that weakness is certainly a sign that Duquette is going for it.

Personally, I like the move.  K-Rod has a good track record and has pitched well this season.  If anyone can keep him focused on the field, it is Buck and this group of players.  There are many reasons to believe he can be an asset down the stretch in a position where the O’s needed some assistance.  Delmonico is a prospect but has his shortcomings (injuries and defense).  With Michael Ohlman’s emergence and Christian Walker looking like a more legitimate 1B prospect at least in the not-to-distant future, Delmonico was expendable.  The O’s are likely a better team with K-Rod this season and are close enough to playoff spot to make the move a well-measured risk.

It took me last night to get comfortable with the idea of trading a legitimate prospect for a two-month rental – Orioles fans haven’t seen this in a while after all – but now that I am, I like the move.  Duquette believes this team can win and so do I.

Now that we know Duquette is willing to step outside of his comfort zone and take a calculated risk, the question is “are there more moves to come?”

The Birds could still use a bat – preferably right-handed – for the designated hitter spot.  As I wrote recently, I do believe L.J. Hoes could be an internal solution but admittedly he would be a modest upgrade.  Should guys under contract beyond next season at exorbitant prices like Alex Rios (.859 OPS vs. LHP) or Alfonso Soriano (.806 OPS vs. LHP) be viewed as legitimate options now? What about guys carrying less risk (in terms of contract size and duration) if they become available like Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, or even old-friend Mark Reynolds?  If Duquette is willing to trade a mid-level prospect for a reliever does that mean he is willing to take a gamble on a DH?

I am not sure.  My feeling is that the Orioles would prefer to not have to.  Henry Urrutia was called up now and not in a month so the club could evaluate him before deciding if additional help is needed.  If Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis get going offensively – and both have shown signs of doing just that – the need for a DH might be lessened.

Gary Thorne – probably based on nothing but his own conjecture – believes that Danny Valencia will be optioned to AAA for Rodriguez.  I would be surprised if the Orioles do that and go with an eight-man bullpen.  However, it would not shock me if the club does DFA Asencio and option Valencia, while bringing up LJ Hoes (in addition to adding Rodriguez).  If they do, one could infer that they are still looking for a right-handed solution for DH and might be in the market for one either by the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline or potentially in August (if Hoes didn’t work out).  In any event, giving Hoes a shot now would be a sign that the Orioles consider the right-handed DH to be a priority still and that they could potentially be in the market for one at some point.

It should be an exciting finish regardless of what happens.  The Orioles made another move yesterday to signal they are real contenders and that is exciting.