There were a lot of trades at the MLB trade deadline that scored a ton of ink (or link). Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Erik Bedard were among the notable. The Mets needed to trade Francisco Rodriguez, a player with a large looming option in his contract from a team with monetary troubles. And so K-Rod's trade to the Brewers was viewed more in the salary dump category than in a win situation for the team that picked him up. Since K-Rod's first appearance for the Brewers, the team has gone 15-5. And while there are a lot of factors that went into those wins, K-Rod might have been the missing piece of a puzzle for the Brewers.
Before Francisco Rodriguez showed up, the Brewers had a huge problem. The team had blown seventeen saves and most of them resulted in losses. Those blown saves came not from the closer, but from the set up guys. Not only demoralizing, those losses kept the Brewers packed in the standings with the Cardinals and Pirates. Their save percentage was in the bottom third in the majors and games frittered away at an alarming rate. In the twenty games since K-Rod has arrived, they have only blown one save (it was K-Rod's) but they still won that game. A lot of those blown saves turned into gully washers where so many runs occurred that the games were put out of reach. In K-Rod's blown save, he did give up two runs, but he kept it there and the Brewers won that game.
Not only did the Brewers make a terrific acquisition in acquiring Francisco Rodriguez, but they handled the transition perfectly. K-Rod had always been a closer. But the Brewers have a terrific closer already in John Axford. The trouble was they couldn't get the game to him. Meanwhile, K-Rod had this explosive clause in his contract that if he finished so many games this season, a huge contract would be guaranteed for the next season.
The Brewers wanted to keep Axford in the closing role, which would have cost K-Rod a lot of money and probably would have led to a very unhappy camper. What the Brewers did was to sit Rodriguez down and rework his contract to make it a mutual option. The matter was resolved and whether or not K-Rod finished a game became a moot point.
To be honest, more credit for this development goes to K-Rod than to the Brewers. As this insightful article (click the link) points out, K-Rod originally had asked the Mets to eliminate the clause because it was affecting how the Mets were using the reliever. As the article points out, that made it easier for the Mets to gain the Brewers' interest. To his credit, Rodrigeuz wanted to pitch meaningful games and while a large part of that is to enhance his future value, it also eliminated any pressure on the Brewers to use K-Rod in a certain way.
Axford now has 32 saves with only two blown saves all season. The Brewers have gone from a dogfight to a now-comfortable three and a half game lead in the division. The starters are getting the game to the set up guys, who are now getting the game to Axford. The acquisition of K-Rod took some of the other relievers out of high leverage situations and gave them a better chance to succeed. Rodriguez has pitched in high leverage situations his entire career and has handled them beautifully (for the most part) since joining the Brewers. He now has two wins and six holds and that's a hand in eight of the Brewers' last fifteen wins.
It might be an exaggeration to say that if the Brewers had stayed pat with their bullpen, they might have lost half of those games. But it's not an exaggeration to know that they have won them. Contenders made flashy moves that were rightly talked about. But the Brewers' trade for Francisco Rodriguez might be the one that ends up making the most impact. As stated in previous posts, deadline trade deals are made to get teams into the playoffs. Judging by the results thus far, the Brewers made a heck of a deal.