Putz fills the Mets' eighth-inning void

December, 11, 2008
If the Mets get the healthy J.J. Putz -- he missed time with rib and elbow injuries in 2008 -- they might actually have acquired the best closer of their offseason, one even better than their new capital-C closer, Francisco Rodriguez.

Putz, who likely will be asked to man the eighth inning, pitches between 92 and 95 mph and runs it up faster than that once in a while; his fastball has good life, but it plays up because he pairs it with a plus splitter with a hard, late bottom. He pounds the strike zone -- he walked fewer batters in 2006 and 2007 combined than K-Rod has in any single season of his career -- and misses bats. In other words, Putz is exactly what you want in a late-game reliever, and his presence on the roster means the Mets can cope with K-Rod's one-inning maximum and can avoid using him on too many consecutive days.

The Mets also have picked up outfielder Jeremy Reed, a defensive specialist who makes a lot of contact but lacks power and patience, and right-handed ground-ball machine Sean Green, who should benefit from the left side of the Mets' infield as long as manager Jerry Manuel keeps him away from too many lefties.

And most importantly, the Mets gave up little or nothing in value for them, as everyone they traded was either unlikely to contribute in New York or blocked by other players, with the exception of one minor league arm.

Seattle gets a whole mess of players, including some prospects, in return. The most recognizable name is Aaron Heilman, a pretty good setup man earlier in his career who has become mistake-prone, particularly with fastball location; his changeup has a splitter-like tumble and is a potential out pitch if he gets his head on straight. Getting out of New York should help.

The Mariners also receive Franklin Gutierrez, a plus defensive outfielder who can play all over but who has poor pitch recognition and doesn't hit right-handed pitching; Ezequiel Carrera, a very fast fourth-outfielder prospect from the Mets who lacks power and has a below-average arm; big league extra outfielder Endy Chavez; left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas, who seems to be permanently out of shape and has an average fastball, a good changeup and a cross-body delivery that limits his command; and first-base prospect Mike Carp, a skilled player who is a little slow but should get on base enough to compensate for average or fringe-average power.

The last player Seattle receives is the deal's sleeper, Maikel Cleto, a 19-year-old right-hander from the Mets' system who pitches between 95 and 97 mph but whose main secondary pitch, a slider, is still a work in progress. He could end up a dominant late-game reliever if the slider comes on with more experience.

It's a quick restocking of upper-level contributors for the Mariners, although for upside in this trade, they're limited to Cleto, to some degree Carp and perhaps a rejuvenated Heilman, who could be flipped later in the year or next offseason for younger players.

Cleveland has done a little asset management here, flipping Gutierrez for Joe Smith, a low-slot, right-handed specialist who's a step below Green and can pitch for Cleveland in 2009, and Luis Valbuena, a slightly bad-bodied second baseman with a good idea at the plate and some doubles power. Valbuena could end up an average big league second baseman, but conditioning is going to remain an issue for him over the long run.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer


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