The Midsummer Classic and an odd acquisition

How good is Prince Fielder?  On a night reserved exclusively for the best in baseball (or at least their replacements), Fielder managed to steal the spotlight again with a three-run dinger that pretty much decided the contest for the National League.  It was the first All-Star home run by a Brewer in franchise history, and Fielder’s subsequent MVP trophy was also a franchise first.

It was as bittersweet a victory as they come.  I couldn’t help but to think that next year Fielder could easily find himself in the other lineup swinging out of the DH spot.  Or at the very least wearing another team’s uniform.  The awards he piles up for the Brewers’ franchise are great, but also tough to take seriously when Fielder has not displayed the kind of commitment to the organization that our other annual All-Star slugger, Ryan Braun, has.

But, Fielder’s ringing jack is not the only reason for Brewers nation to rejoice tonight; indeed, it may not even be the primary reason.  In a stunning move, Doug Melvin and the Brewers announced that they had acquired New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez and enough cash to cover his salary (about $5 M) for two minor league players to be named later.  At 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and a 2.88 K/BB ratio, Rodriguez is poised to contribute significantly to the bullpen going forward.

It’s an interesting move, if for no other reason that Doug Melvin seems to have addressed one of the club’s strengths by creating a bit of a closer controversy.  Closer John Axford, also 2-2, has performed even better than K-Rod, and sits at 2.83 with 3.12 K/BB.  While Doug Melvin insists there’s no confusion about the closer role, well, there is, because he has thus far refused to say who the primary closer would be.  “John has done a good job for us, and I still have confidence in him,” said Melvin. “I’m not going to get into (a possible controversy). This is just a chance to get a quality arm that’s not easy to get.”  But as Tom Haudricourt points out:

One thing is certain: The Brewers will not let Rodriguez finish 21 more games over the remainder of the season. He already has finished 34 games, and if he gets to 55 games finished for the season, the $17.5 million option for 2012 automatically vests.

Please stay healthy, John.

The move certainly shores up a bullpen that has struggled as of late, with recently demoted set-up man Kameron Loe sitting at 3-7 with a 4.50 ERA.  Long reliever Marco Estrada has also fallen off, compiling a 1-5 record and 4.65 ERA since his last start on May 4.  And with Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins potential injury risks, its hard to pan Melvin for the move too much, especially if Rodriguez is used primarily as a set up man.*

Yet you hope Doug Melvin isn’t done working his magic, because the much more pressing need is at shortstop.  Melvin has been very active at the trade deadline in past years, and I’ll be handicapping the shortstop situation in the next few days.  There’s reason to like the K-Rod move, though, and not only because it keeps a really good closer out of the Cardinals hands.  But there also has to be cautious optimism that there is more to come before the July 31 trade deadline.

*Scott Boras apparently doesn’t consider his client K-Rod a setup man (“”Closers don’t make good setup men. Does anyone want an unhappy setup man in their clubhouse?”).  You have to wonder if the Brewers’ intention to use K-Rod in that role to prevent the vesting of his 2012 option will harm whatever (slim) chance the team has to keep Fielder.  But Scott Boras has said a lot of things, and its simply not clear how all this will shake out right now, including whether K-Rod will be a detriment in the clubhouse.  There’s certainly potential for that.

EDIT:  As Tim Dierkes over at MLBTradeRumors notes, the best case scenario for Scott Boras commission-wise is to have K-Rod become a free agent at the end of the season.  So, he can’t be too upset with a set-up arrangement for the righty.  Still, Jon Heyman, who views the trade favorably, reports that Melvin and Boras discussed K-Rod’s role with the crew, and for now Boras seems to be sticking to his “historic closer” shtick.

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