Here’s a timeline of present and former Rays closers making news this week:
Monday evening: Fernando Rodney announces his intent to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Tuesday afternoon: Rafael Soriano signs a two-year deal worth $28 million with a club option with the Nationals.
Tuesday night: Ken Rosenthal tweets about the Kyle Farnsworth market, and how he’s narrowed his choices from six teams to three.
I have no insight into whether the Rays are one of those teams. I assume they kept in touch with his agent, and I assume they know the asking price. Beyond that, I cannot speculate or speak to the likelihood of Farnsworth returning to Tampa Bay’s bullpen. What I can speak to is the fittingness of Farnsworth making news after Rodney and Soriano.
Although Farnsworth is potentially leaving in quietness, he arrived in St. Petersburg amidst a lot of noise. People loved mocking Farnsworth for his history of feral behavior on and off the mound. For a while, Farnsworth served as New York slang for “blown save.” Few believed he had the mentality fortitude or the stomach to close out ballgames. So, when the Rays signed Farnsworth to close, it was easy to mock, albeit unfair. The Farnsworth that signed with the Rays was not the fire-throwing, punch-throwing gadabout from his Chicago days. This Farnsworth had developed and matured into a solid reliever with the Royals.
Farnsworth, of course, went on to pitch well. We always look for portents— at the time and in retrospect—moments that reveal good times are ahead. The Farnsworth moment that made us believe everything would be okay had to come in Boston during his second save opportunity. Farnsworth entered a one-run game tasked with facing Jacoby Ellsbury (hitting for Mike Cameron), J.D. Drew (hitting for Jason Varitek), and David Ortiz (hitting for Darnell McDonald); about as fierce a trio of left-handed hitters as a team could offer. Given the game was at Fenway, it wouldn’t have taken much for one of those three to wrap a ball around the pole. But they didn’t. Ellsbury and Drew struck out and Ortiz flew out—though my gut dropped when Ortiz hit the ball in the air all the same.
From there on, Farnsworth was nails. There were close calls with injuries—I remember him getting a trainer visit a series for a short time—and yes, he did blow a save against the Yankees (it wasn’t entirely his fault). Late in the season, Farnsworth went down with arm issues. By that point, people were dreading his absence instead of his presence. It’s funny how this game works.
The unfortunate reality is Farnsworth has horrible timing. You look at his numbers from 2011: 57 2/3 innings, 2.18 ERA, and a 4.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio; you look at his personality: the glasses, the tribal tattoos, the intimidation factor, and the laconic nature; you look at that and you say here’s a guy fans will remember. But they won’t because Farnsworth had the misfortune of closing games in the year between Soriano and Rodney.
Soriano did terse exchanges better than Farnsworth. When Soriano talked, what he said was memorable—on one occasion, he said something to the effect of, “The Yankees are good but I’m good, too.” Just as Soriano’s aura eclipsed Farnsworth, so did his save celebration: the untucking of the jersey, which he took with him to the Yankees (and presumably will use with the Nationals). Soriano’s numbers were also better than Farnsworth’s: 62 1/3 innings, 1.73 ERA, and a 4.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made the All-Star team and received votes for the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. Farnsworth did none of the above.
If missing the start of the 2012 season after a great year wasn’t bad enough, Farnsworth’s injury opened the door for Rodney to take over as closer. Rodney only went on to post the lowest ERA in league history (0.60 in 74 2/3 innings), but he posted a 5.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio—an absurd number considering it was more than the sum of his previous three seasons’ worth of ratios. He too, like Soriano, earned an All-Star bid along with Cy Young and MVP votes. Rodney nudged Farnsworth on the trivial stuff as well, thanks to the archery-themed celebration.
As well as Farnsworth pitched in 2011, you can argue that he’s had the third-best season from a closer in the past three years. Expand the pool to all Rays relievers and he might drop to fifth or sixth, behind Joaquin Benoit and Jake McGee’s 2010 and 2012 respectively. This isn’t to make Farnsworth out as some poor sap—he’s going to be just fine, regardless of where he signs. It does go to show this game has a way of providing pleasant surprises. Kyle Farnsworth hasn’t left many fans behind in his previous stops. Rays fans might not remember his 2011 out of hand, but they’ll have fond memories when they run across it.