In the 2007 All-Star Game, Francisco Rodriguez got the save. His setup man was fellow star closer J.J. Putz. Such dream combinations usually happen only in All-Star games. But this one is now a main feature of the 2009 Mets.
In the words of another J.J. from an old TV show: Dyn-o-mite! For Omar Minaya and the Mets, not to mention Johan Santana, who no longer has to pitch a complete game to assure himself of a win, these are certainly good times.
Getting a strong setup man was just as important as landing a top closer. With the Mets talking up budget constraints, I didn't have much hope that they could land a second good reliever, much less one who had been an All-Star closer just two seasons ago. Especially when the Mets were dangling the likes of Aaron Heilman in hopes of landing Huston Street from the Rockies.
Now the Mets, with a package featuring Heilman, have turned the bullpen from a weakness to a strength.
While Putz struggled with injuries in 2008, and, as Big League Stew points out, blew eight saves in 23 chances, he's at least as good a bet to do well next year as other available closers Brian Fuentes and Kerry Wood. Over the last three seasons, Putz had 91 saves, while Fuentes had 80. And while Wood was healthy with 34 saves in 2008, he only pitched a total of 44 innings the previous two seasons.
And Putz isn't even the Mets' closer - he's the setup man! Dyn-o-mite!
I'm sorry to see Endy Chavez and Joe Smith go, and Aaron Heilman may just need a change of scenery, but the Mets didn't really give up that much at the major league level. Mike Carp and the other prospects are just that at this point - prospects.
But when Metsblog.com quoted Indians GM Mark Shapiro as saying the three-team deal came together quickly and "what I hope is that we’re all feeling good about it a year from now,” I couldn't help but think of the last time I was so excited about a trade involving the Mets and the Indians. It was one of the first moves Shapiro made as Indians GM - the December 2001 trade of Roberto Alomar to the Mets. A year later, nobody was feeling good about that one!
And as for that 2007 All-Star Game, the full story turned out to be more like the Mets' 2008 bullpen misadventures. After Putz struck out Matt Holliday and got Brian McCann to pop out, he was only one out away from a save. But Dmitri Young singled and Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer off of Putz to cut the lead to 5-4.
So K-Rod was brought in to get the final out. But he walked Derrek Lee and Orlando Hudson to load the bases before getting Aaron Rowand to fly out to end the game.
See, these guys will fit right in on the Mets!
By the way, Putz and the AL had a three-run cushion in the ninth because one of the National League All-Star closers had given up a two-run homer to Victor Martinez the inning before. And that closer was, you guessed it, Billy Wagner. (Martinez, incidentally, was pinch-hitting for Santana.)
When Wagner helped blow that All-Star game, I was angry at the time that the Mets had missed out on possible home field advantage in the World Series. They ended up not having to worry about that in 2007 or 2008. There is stil work to be done, but the way this offseason is going so far, the Mets may have good reason to take an interest in the outcome of next year's All-Star game.