Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez set the MLB Record for saves in a single season today. K-Rod earned his 58th save of the season in a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim against the Seattle Mariners. The record was previously held by Bobby Thigpen who saved 57 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1990.
K-Rod burst onto the MLB scene late in the 2002 season with the Angels at the age of 20. Although he only pitched 5 innings in the regular season he was added to the post-season roster and quickly became the team's closer en route to the Angels first (and so far only) World Series Championship.
Earlier this week, the Angels clinched their third AL West Division Title in four years. K-Rod played a significant role in the Angels dominance in the AL West and I believe should win the American League MVP although there is sentiment for Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Pitchers seldom win MVPs. The logic goes that the Cy Young Award goes to pitchers while the MVP goes to position players. However, the Cy Young tends to go to starters rather than relievers. Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians has won 22 games and is nearly a sure bet to win the Cy Young although the Tribe will not be going to the post-season. Surely K-Rod should be recognized for his dominance.
There is precedent in the AL for relief pitchers winning the league's MVP. Rollie Fingers won the AL MVP for the Milwaukee Brewers in the strike shortened 1981 season. Three years later, Willie Hernandez won the AL MVP for the 1984 Detroit Tigers team that won 35 of their first 40 games. This is a team that had Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell on it. But it was Hernandez who slammed the door on Tiger victories. In 1992, Dennis Eckersley won the AL MVP for the Oakland Athletics. When Eck came into the game, it was a fait d'accompli. As extraordinary as they were in the seasons they won the MVP, K-Rod has been that much better.
What will be interesting though is where K-Rod will pitch in 2009. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season. Prior to this season, the Angels took him to arbitration. K-Rod wanted $12.5 million this season and the Angels offered $10 million. The arbitrator ruled in the Angels favor. Would the Angels be willing to fork over an additional $2.5 million for next season given K-Rod's record breaking season?
If not, I see K-Rod in New York with either the Mets or the Yankees. The New York Mets are an obvious fit. Their current closer Billy Wagner got hurt and will be having Tommy John surgery on his elbow which will force him to miss the 2009 season. If the Mets fail to reach the post season for the second season in a row, Omar Minaya will sell his first born to sign K-Rod. The bullpen has been the Achilles heel of the team whether managed by Willie Randolph or Jerry Manuel.
You might ask, "But why the Yankees, Aaron? What about Mariano Rivera?" Rivera has been the Yankees closer since 1997. While Rivera has had yet another effective season in 2008 with 32 saves, barring a miracle the Yankees won't be playing in the post-season for the first time since 1993. Hank Steinbrenner has promised to shake up the team next year. While Joe Girardi appears safe as manager if Hank has his father in him he might do something outlandish and bold and sign K-Rod. It might be crazy. But let's remember that Rivera will turn 39 in November. K-Rod is 26 and not even in the prime of his career. You do the math. Yankees fans won't accept K-Rod at first but if he gets them a World Series ring some might ask, "Mariano Who?"
We'll see how things turn out this winter.