A season ago, the Minnesota Twins welcomed Bartolo Colon to the 25 man roster. Big Sexy was 44 years old, and he was determined to pitch at least until he was 45. Paul Molitor got good results from the journeyman a year ago, and the front office went back to the fountain of youth this winter. Fernando Rodney was signed as the club's closer, and at the age of 41 he's been nothing short of a revelation.
Long gone are the days that the Twins could immediately pencil in a holdover in the 9th inning. Glen Perkins was an All Star closer that was a well known commodity. Taking the torch from Joe Nathan, the Twins had gone from one 9th inning stalwart to another. As age and ineffectiveness caught up with Perkins however, the cupboard seemed to be bare. Without a "proven closer" waiting in the wings, Minnesota needed to get creative.
After Perkins began to find himself on the disabled list, the Twins turned to former scrap heap pickup Brandon Kintzler. It took just a year, and the 32 year old found himself in the All Star Game for the first time in his career. Recording 28 saves along with a 2.78 ERA for Minnesota a year ago, Kintzler was nothing short of a revelation.
Having turned to a more established 9th inning presence, Rodney was guaranteed the 9th inning gig from the get go. Following along with a trend, April was a tough month for the 41 year old. Rodney posted a 5.87 ERA and had as many blown saves (3) as he did successful ones (3). At the end of that first month, I found myself as the voice of reason preaching caution. This narrative has played out before, and it's one that bears significant fruit going forward.
Since May 1, Rodney owns a 2.19 ERA for the Twins and has allowed opposing batters to compile just a .514 OPS against him. He's 17/19 in save opportunities, and has been the lockdown presence any team would hope for in the late innings. What's maybe most impressive, is that Rodney is putting up numbers that rival some of his best season, despite his advanced age. The 3.3 BB/9 is the second lowest tally of his career, and over a full free pass better than his career average. He's still setting down batters at a 10.0 K/9 rate, and he's kept hitters in check.
Across the board, there's really nothing exceptional about the totals that the Twins closer is putting up. What's more important however, is that there's no areas for concern either. Rodney is 41 years old, and still competing at a level that many of his contemporaries would strive for. His velocity still averages out above 95 mph, and he remains virtually the same pitcher he's always been. For the gamble that Minnesota placed in acquiring his services, this is definitely a success story for all parties involved.
Time will tell, but the expectation should be that Rodney is moved before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Having worked almost entirely in the closer role, it would stand to reason that a team needing a 9th inning arm would make the most sense. No matter where he goes however, the 41 year old will probably end up being superior to many of the younger arms surrounding him. Whether it be his workout regimen or dedication to the game, continuing to be this good for this long is nothing short of exceptional.
This narrative has played out in Twins Territory before. From Jim Thome, to Colon, and now Rodney, seeing guys well past their prime competing at such a high level is something of a marvel. There's no reason for Rodney to be considering calling it quits any time soon, and at this stage in his career, that's something to hang his hat on.