By signing K-Rod, Mets made the safe pick

December, 9, 2008
The signing of Francisco Rodriguez addresses one of the Mets' biggest weaknesses, adding probably three wins of value over the Mets' in-house options for late-game relief. It doesn't finish their bullpen -- and they still need to add a starter (Derek Lowe?) -- but it clearly makes them better.

On the plus side, the Mets signed the safest closer on the market in K-Rod. Their last foray into the free-agent closer market, with Billy Wagner, didn't work out, as Wagner -- who'd had only one serious arm injury in his career before coming to the Mets -- got hurt. Rodriguez has never been on the disabled list and has made at least 64 appearances in every year since his first full season, when he appeared in 59 games in 2003 but was often used for multiple innings. If Rodriguez gets hurt, the Mets can at least point to the clean health record, whereas signing Kerry Wood -- who has significantly better stuff and a better short-term track record of missing bats -- brought more risk, both actual health risk and the risk of a backlash if Wood's arm fell off.

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There are some red flags with Rodriguez that the switch in leagues won't fully obscure. Rodriguez's velocity has been in decline for several years now, and he's added a changeup while reducing his use of his best pitch, the sharp slider that was his out pitch in the early years of his career. The deprecation of his slider has led to a decline in his strikeout rate, from 33.1 percent of opposing hitters in 2006 to a career-worst 26.7 percent in 2008. The drop in velocity and concerns about the violence in his delivery make him a potential injury risk in spite of the health record, much as scouts and executives saw B.J. Ryan, who had never spent a day of his pro career on the DL prior to signing with the Blue Jays, as a breakdown risk when he was a free agent after 2005. Rodriguez was limited to a maximum of one inning in 2008, which both limits his value to the Mets and makes you wonder if the Angels were concerned about something specific in K-Rod's arm.

The contract will run four years if Rodriguez stays healthy enough to trigger the vesting option, which will probably put him at $13-14 million in 2012. Note that Rodriguez does not have to be effective to trigger the option -- merely healthy enough to pitch -- so it's better to think of this as a four-year deal with an insurance clause in case he should blow out in the first three years. Four years is a long deal for any reliever, but it's particularly so for a reliever who's showing some signs of decline and is probably a worse-than-even bet to be worth $13-14 million four years down the road.

The Angels are now in line to receive the Mets' first-round pick plus a compensatory pick after the first round, which will help them restock a farm system that has thinned out over the past few years. (If the Mets sign Lowe, the Angels will still receive the Mets' first-round pick and the Dodgers will receive the Mets' second-round pick.) The Angels could slide Jose Arredondo into the closer role and continue to let Scot Shields set up, and they might be a fit for a free-agent reliever who could fill the spot Arredondo would vacate.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer


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