Veteran closer exchanged for fifth-ranked player in O's farm system
MILWAUKEE -- Things change in a hurry in Major League Baseball, a fact driven home for both Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez and general manager Doug Melvin as a result of Milwaukee's first trade leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Rodriguez, who was unemployed until the Brewers offered him a Minor League deal in mid-April, was sent to the Orioles, and the thick of the American League East race, on Tuesday for third base prospect Nick Delmonico, a player deemed "unavailable" only three weeks earlier.
"It's unfortunate our season is where it's at and moves like this have to be made," said Melvin, who informed Rodriguez of the deal about 30 minutes before the first pitch of the Brewers' 6-2 loss to the Padres at Miller Park. "I would rather be in a pennant race and keep him."
Prospect acquired by Brewers
Nick Delmonico, 3B: Delmonico was ranked No. 5 on the Orioles' Top 20 at the time of the trade. A product of the Tennessee high school ranks, he grew up around the game. His father, Rod, was a longtime college coach and his brother, Tony, spent time in pro ball with the Dodgers. The Orioles gave him seven figures after taking him in the sixth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft to sign him away from the University of Georgia. He was the South Atlantic League All-Star Game MVP in 2012, though his first season was cut short due to a knee injury. Delmonico played all over the infield, and even caught some, in high school. That has continued thus far as a pro. He spent his first season on the right side of the infield, playing second and first base. This year, Delmonico has seen nearly all of his time come at third base, the position many scouts felt was best for him. Whatever his defensive position, it will be Delmonico's bat that will determine how far he goes. He has an advanced approach at the plate, showing a willingness to draw walks and a penchant for not striking out. He hasn't hit for average much yet, but he should have the chance to, along with at least average power from the left side. The Brewers added some impact-type bats via the Draft, particularly in 2012, and they have to hope Delmonico provides some more depth in that category.
Instead, the Brewers entered the day with a 41-57 record, in last place in the National League Central. Rodriguez had drawn interest from as many as six teams, Melvin said, and the Brewers targeted Delmonico from the start but were told three weeks ago he could not be had. When the K-Rod serious suitors were whittled to three AL teams, Baltimore was motivated to make the move.
In Delmonico, a left-handed-hitting third baseman, the Brewers bolstered two areas of need in their system. He will be assigned to advanced Class A Brevard County.
"There was enough traffic on K-Rod that we were able to extract what we consider a good player who still has to develop," Melvin said. "A good player who has a chance to be a Major League player."
Delmonico, 21, was the fifth-ranked prospect in the Orioles' system by MLB.com and will occupy the same slot in the Brewers' rankings when they are unveiled this week. The Orioles drafted him in the sixth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft after Delmonico slipped because of signability concerns. Some clubs, Melvin said, considered him a first-round talent.
He batted .244 with 13 home runs and 30 RBIs in 60 games at Class A Frederick this season. His father, Rod, was the head baseball coach at the University of Tennessee and is a friend of Brewers first base coach Garth Iorg.
"We went over our amateur reports and were really high on him," Melvin said. "Garth was really high on him from a character standpoint and a 'baseball player' standpoint. We had three scouts see him as recently as the past 10 days, too."
"Nick Delmonico shows a lot of promise as a hitter," Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said, "but the Major League club needed a little more depth for our pitching staff to accomplish what we want to accomplish this year."
Rodriguez originally came to the Brewers as part of a July 2011 trade with the Mets, and he helped Milwaukee win the NL Central that season. But the Brewers let him go after 2012, when Rodriguez was involved in a domestic incident with his girlfriend that was eventually dropped.
When he remained available in free agency at the start of the season, the Brewers took a chance, signing Rodriguez to a Minor League deal that would pay a prorated portion of more than $2 million in the Majors. He was promoted to Milwaukee in May and was 10-for-10 in save opportunities with a 1.09 ERA. His 304 career saves are tied with former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery for 21st on the all-time list.
Rodriguez was not surprised by the move, and said he was thankful "in a big way" for the second chance the Brewers afforded him. He spoke of the challenge of joining a pennant race.
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but we're not playing for [anything] here," Rodriguez said. "Going there now, every game is going to count, especially in an American League East that is really strong. I have to be on top of my game as much as possible."
To replace Rodriguez on the active roster, the Brewers reinstated right-hander Alfredo Figaro from the disabled list, where he had been recovering from a ribcage strain. He allowed only one hit and struck out four in 2 1/3 innings on Monday at rookie-level Arizona and was deemed fit to pitch. Manager Ron Roenicke said John Axford or Jim Henderson would share the closer's role with Rodriguez's departure. Henderson threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts on Tuesday.
Melvin has fielded calls about a number of Brewers relievers, including left-hander Michael Gonzalez, who, like Rodriguez, is a free agent at season's end. But Melvin was adamant on Tuesday: This was not the start of a Brewers' sell-off.
"I want to make this clear: We weren't going to trade K-Rod if we weren't going to get what we thought was a good deal," Melvin said. "This isn't where we're selling. I'm not a believer in 'buyers' and 'sellers' -- I'm a believer in making a good deal. Deals that help good ballclubs are the best deals that work. When you're selling is when you're just moving players because of salary. If we can make a trade that's in the best interest of the organization, we'll continue to look at that … [but] I'm not out there shopping the other guys."
Melvin also said he's received interest in some position players. As for starting pitchers, he said he was "not motivated" to move Kyle Lohse and declined to discuss interest in Yovani Gallardo.
"Teams have called, but I'm not shopping [Gallardo]," Melvin said. "You never say never, because I've been fooled by that before, but he's not somebody I'm motivated to move."
It has been a challenging two days for the Brewers, who lost their best player, Ryan Braun, to a season-ending suspension on Monday and their closer the following day.
"They're going to be OK," Rodriguez said. "Every ballclub goes through adversity, and they're going through [it] right now. … The atmosphere is still the same. It's not like they have lost confidence at all. And as far as losing a closer, they have two closers out there ready to do the job, which is John Axford and Jim Henderson."