Rodney's resurgence as free agent revitalized Rays

Reliever posted 0.60 ERA and 48 saves in first season with Tampa Bay

Rodney's resurgence as free agent revitalized Rays

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

ST. PETERSBURG -- Fernando Rodney is at the top of the class when it comes to free agents the Rays have signed.

Obviously, the Rays have not been big players in the free-agent market over the years due to financial constraints. The team has historically shopped at a lower tier compared to teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. Given those constraints, the players they have signed have often been guys who were once good, but their performances had fallen off for one reason on another.

Rodney fit that mold to a T. Prior to the 2012 season, the Rays signed the hard-throwing right-handed reliever to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million and a club option of $250,000 for '13. He had been a big-time closer for the Tigers, recording 37 saves in '09 before signing a two-year, $11 million deal with the Angels. In 2010, he recorded just 14 saves for them, and he notched just three in '11.

Despite Rodney's bust seasons on the West Coast, the Rays' front office saw something they liked in him. He owned a magical changeup, but his control had been an issue.

Wearing a Tampa Bay uniform, Rodney got his act together, putting up crazy-good numbers in 2012. Appearing in 76 games, he posted a 0.60 ERA with 48 saves in 50 save opportunities, recording the best season by a reliever at the time. Rodney also showed a little personality while doing so, popularizing his arrow-shooting move after notching each save.

In 2013, Rodney wasn't as good, but he still put up solid numbers -- 37 saves and a 3.38 ERA. He took his bow-and-arrow show to Seattle via free agency for '14.

"Here's the deal with him, he had a record-breaking season," said Dewayne Staats, the Rays' longtime play-by-play man. "So why wouldn't he be considered the best of the best? You can't argue with what happened, the kind of year he had.

"I don't know how the Rays continued to find guys who were in situations like Rodney's, but they had success bringing in guys who were coming off bad seasons. Then they reinvented themselves with the Rays."

Honorable mentions

James Loney
Loney signed with the Rays prior to the 2013 season. Though he didn't fit the slugging profile of most Major League first basemen, he fit in well with Tampa Bay. Loney hit .299 with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs in 2013, bringing along a slick glove at first base. In three seasons with the Rays, he hit .291 with 26 home runs and 176 RBIs in 417 games.

Loney's go-ahead homer

Joel Peralta
Peralta signed with the team prior to the 2011 season. In four seasons, he compiled an 11-22 record with a 3.58 ERA while making 296 appearances, which ranks second in team history to Jake McGee's 297. Not to be discounted was Peralta's leadership role in the clubhouse.

Akinori Iwamura
Iwamura came to the Rays from Japan and played for three years -- first at third base, then at second. He hit .281 with 14 home runs and 104 RBIs in 344 games. In Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, Iwamura provided an iconic moment in team history when he stepped on second base for the final out against the Red Sox to send the Rays to the World Series.

Wade Boggs
The Hall of Famer signed a two-year deal to play for the Devil Rays prior to the team's inaugural season in 1998. While he wasn't the same player he'd been for most of his career, he did provide plenty of moments playing for his hometown team, including the night in '99 when he recorded his 3,000th hit with a home run.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.