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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mets' bullpen needs New Deal

An article in Sunday's Times argues that the Mets should not go after Francisco Rodriguez because he only ranked fourth in the AL this year among closers in a new stat, W.P.A. Also, a drop in K-Rod's velocity means increased injury risk, especially considering what happened to Billy Wagner this year.

The article makes some good points, and there are valid reasons for being wary of giving K-Rod a five-year deal. But I am tired of reading arguments that must come up with new stats with names that sound like they'd be more at home in FDR's New Deal while ignoring the basic facts about K-Rod:

  • He has saved more than forty games four years in a row.
  • He helped pitch the Angels to a World Series title in 2002.
  • Even in a year in which, aside from saves, his statistics were supposedly off, K-Rod still had an ERA of 2.24 and a batting average against of .216. Even with his reduced strikeout rate, he still fanned 77 in 68 1/3 innings.
  • He is only 26 years old.
  • Oh, and by the way, he set the all-time saves record in 2008 with 62.

My favorite passage from the Times article ends up making a more telling point about the Mets' needs:

Even a healthy closer can have only so much impact on a team. If a team's top reliever is hurt, the manager can promote the club's set-up man - also a well-above average pitcher - to closer, ensuring that he will still have a strong hurler working the ninth.

It is clear that this writer did not see any Mets games in 2008. But as far as making a point that a good setup man is just as important as a good closer, he is on to something there.

If the Mets do sign K-Rod and call it a day with the bullpen, you can bet he won't be getting 62 saves again, because the Mets' bridge to a closer is currently more like a bridge to nowhere.

Another bit of "conventional wisdom" I'd like to see retired is the notion that the problem with the Mets' bullpen in '08 was that once Wagner got hurt, the other relievers were all moved into unsuitable roles.

Let's face it - for some of these guys, the unsuitable role was being on a big-league roster. And even when Wagner was healthy, nobody was laying claim to the setup role.

So the Mets need not just a closer, but a good setup man. Ideally, he would be someone with closing experience, but I'll be happy if the Mets get one closer, much less two, especially since they are already paying Wagner's salary next year. So instead of one solid high-priced setup man, how about two lower-priced good possibilities for the role? (Players like, alas, Matt Lindstrom and Heath Bell).

The Mets bullpen needs a new deal, and what better place to go for that new deal than Las Vegas?

1 comment:

Uncle Mike said...

If I wanted the Mets to succeed, I would recommend taking what could be spent on Francisco Rodriguez and spend it instead on three relievers. "Bullpen by committee" usually doesn't work, but for the moment, "work" is relative. If you told me my team could do this, and it would result in a rough season, a frustrating season -- say, 84 wins and about a dozen other games they could win with K-Rod but won't -- but the next five years would see my team continue its development with said three relievers and everyone else it already had, and we'd be in the Playoffs, I would take it.

So Met management has a big decision to make: Is the future now, or is it in the near future? Declaring the future to be "now," in an attempt to capitalize off the new ballpark early, and seeing the Yankees as weakened and that this is the Mets' chance to "take over New York," didn't work in 2007 or 2008. Is there any reason to believe it would work in 2009? If so, they should go after K-Rod.

A far wiser decision would be to build up the bullpen, and build up the farm system. Someday, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera will be gone. And when that happens, Jose Reyes and David Wright should still be near peak numbers, and Johan Santana should not yet have begun a noticeable decline. So the Mets should set that up, because, while any upside that would be arriving wouldn't be arriving soon, it has a much better chance of being further up than going for the whole thing now.

That is, if wanted the Mets to succeed.