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No surprise here

Sometimes life surprises you by presenting none other than surprises. For instance, imagine my surprise when I learned that soccer is the best sport because it is surprisingly surprising. Talk about a surprise. (That one's for you, Great DCenter.)

On the other hand, it comes as no surprise that Felix Rodriguez has signed with the Washington Nationals. Eight days ago, Rocket Bill reported that the Nats had extended a minor league contract offer to Rodriguez. Eight days ago, and nothing had happened. Eight long days.

But we weren't supposed to be surprised it came to pass. It was expected. What might be surprising, though, is that Rodriguez is going to receive a guarantee on some hard currency:

Reliever Felix Rodriguez agreed Tuesday to a $600,000, one-year contract with the Washington Nationals. . . .
In addition to his salary, the 33-year-old right-hander could make $600,000 in roster bonuses: $200,000 each if he is on the 40-man roster on March 29, May 1 and Aug. 1.

Thus, provided Rodriguez pitches well enough to hang around for at least most of the season, it appears that he'll make $1.2 million, lickety-split. And if he goes all Toasty Osuna on us, the team will retain $400,00 or perhaps $600,000.

Rodriguez had his best years with the Giants in 2000-01, overpowering hitters with a dynamite four-seamer and even momentarily improving his control. After a bit of an off-year in San Francisco's World Series season (recall that he gave up a crippling three-run homer in the seventh inning of Game Six), Rodriguez rebounded to be a reliable pitcher for the Giants, though in a lower-leverage role, for the better part of the next two seasons. Traded to the Phillies late in '04, Rodriguez was flipped to the Yankees for Kenny Lofton months later and had a deplorable '05 in the Bronx.

In early May, Rodriguez suffered torn knee cartilage while getting out of the shower. Days later, he had surgery; Rodriguez didn't make it back to action until July 19. The season was pretty much a wash, with Rodriguez posting a 5.01 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched, walking twenty and striking out only eighteen.

You can't tell much from a thirty-two inning sample, but if you're looking for causation between the injury and where his season went downhill, there's not much evidence of it:

Before injury: 11.2 IP, 13 H, 7 BB, 6 K; 0-0, 5.40 ERA
After injury: 20.2 IP, 20 H, 13 BB, 12 K; 0-0, 4.79 ERA

Not tremendously promising, any way you view it---but considering Rodriguez was hurt in a freak accident, it's hard to excuse the pre-injury performance as some kinks he was working out. In fact, the Cubs were looking to trade for the guy a day or two before the injury. But maybe the pre-injury performance was a sample size thing, and the post-injury performance was a working out  the kinks thing. Or maybe the entirety of it was a sample size thing. Or maybe Rodriguez is pretty much done.

We'll just have to see.

For now, I'll offer no specific objection to the signing. Rodriguez is not quite as extreme a bounce-back guy as Hector Carrasco was this time last season, but it's still a decent bounce-back attempt. If Rodriguez replicates his '03-04 quality, he'll be worth the $1.2 million. If he somehow finds the fountain of youth or pops up with a second reliable pitch (the Phillies tried to teach him a change, but it apparently didn't take), he might be quite a bargain. If not, it's only money.

I will note one thing, though: If there's a prop bet on which reliever will drive Frank Robinson nuts, take a shot on Rodriguez. We know how much Frobby hates wild guys out of the 'pen, and Rodriguez has walked 4.31 batters per nine innings for his career. Potential for displeasure awaits.

Update [2006-1-31 23:10:33 by Basil]: Of course, adding Rodriguez makes the numbers game with respect to the pitching staff tighter than Armando Benitez in a playoff game. Check out NFA's Big Board for a look-see.