Olney: Mets Determine Closer Market

Buster Olney added a blog post at ESPN stating that the Mets call the shots in the closer market. There have been several reports recently that the Mets may make several simultaneous offers to K-Rod, Brian Fuentes, and possibly Kerry Wood. Whoever is the first to jump at the Mets offer gets the job.

The Mets are really sitting in a strong position, as perhaps the only big-market team intent on spending good money on a reliever, and their intention is to present the offers with this marching order: The first reliever who accepts our offer is going to be our closer.

The other teams out there looking at closers right now are the Brewers, Cardinals, Tigers, and Angels. From all of the reports that I’ve read, none of those teams want to be at the highest salary point for a free agent closer this off-season. I agree with Olney that situation does leave the Mets in the drivers seat right now.

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Closer Market Gets Crowded As Hoffman Joins Free Agents

This week Trevor Hoffman joined the ranks of the currently “between contract” closers. It’s a pretty impressive list right now with K-Rod, Brian Fuentes, and Hoffman all free agents. Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz are rumored to be available for trades as well.

The Mets couldn’t have picked a better time to be in the market for a closer. We haven’t heard any rumors about the Mets making an offer to anyone yet. So we know they’re not immediately jumping into the fire after any of the available free agents.

Hoffman could be a good one year stop-gap until Eddie Kunz is ready to take over the reigns as the closer. Sure, he’ll be 41 years old this year. And his fastball is topping out in the mid to high 80’s now. But he’s still got the great change up. And he’s not far removed from some excellent seasons.

Last season Hoffman had 32 saves with a 3.77 ERA and 1.037 WHIP. Not bad for an old man. The Mets would’ve killed to have someone like that last season after Billy Wagner went down. In 2006, Hoffman had 46 saves and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and tenth in the NL MVP voting.

I’d rather have Hoffman for one season than Fuentes for three and K-Rod for four or five. The way relief pitchers are up and down from season to season, you just can’t trust them to be consistent over any great length of time.

Omar Minaya should really think about getting into a short-term deal with Hoffman. Not to mention the fact that his price tag will be significantly lower than the other free agents. And the Mets are still on the hook for Billy Wagner’s $10.5 million salary in 2009. It’s not my money that they’re spending but I’d rather see the resources applied across the multiple potential openings in the bullpen, left field, and rotation than to one “great” closer.

Image via Wikimedia

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Explaining Type A and B MLB Free Agents

If you’ve ever wondered how Major League Baseball determines the categories for free agency, here’s the column for you to read from MLB.com. Marty Noble does a great job of explaining how MLB determines the categories for free agents and the impact it could have on the Mets decision-making this off-season.

Specifically, Derek Lowe and Brian Fuentes are examined. Their status as Type A free agents could hinder the Mets motivation to pursue them. The recent success of teams like the Rays have shed light on how to build a successful team through the draft.

Mets 2008 Off-Season Needs: Bullpen

Here’s the post that I’ve been dreading. It seems like the task of defining a reconstruction of the Mets bullpen is almost too daunting. I won’t go into the history of the 2008 season for the Mets bullpen. Suffice it to say, it was nearly a complete disaster.

My expectations are that Joe Smith, Pedro Feliciano, Brian Stokes, and Eddie Kunz will be in the bullpen in 2009. I expect the Mets to dump Scott Schoenweiss, Aaron Heilman, and Duaner Sanchez. They’re all under contract for 2009 but should be either traded for next to nothing or released. Obviously, Billy Wagner is under contract but won’t play in a Mets uniform again due to injury. Luis Ayala will be a free agent and I don’t expect the Mets to make a major play for him to sign a deal.

Let’s start at the top of the shopping list: the Mets need a closer. The two top-tier choices are the Angels’ K-Rod and the Rockies Brian Fuentes. Clearly, K-Rod is head and shoulders above anyone else on the market this off-season. He’ll be looking for a five year deal from somebody. I hope the Mets don’t do it. He’s ultra-talented but the Mets really don’t want to get into a five year commitment to a relief pitcher. Their performance varies so wildly from year to year that it’s too difficult to predict future success levels.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Mets will be front runners for Brian Fuentes in the neighborhood of 3-years/$36 million:

Fuentes, however, could come off the board quickly because, executives say, his market of around three years at $36 million-$39 million has been established. The Mets have indicated they don’t want to pay a big salary to a new closer in addition to paying Billy Wagner , who will miss all of 2009 and whose $13 million contract is not insured. But they have determined their need is great enough and the top closer on the market, Francisco Rodriguez, might cost too much to sign.

Fuentes has 111 saves over the past four seasons, including 30 last year when he pitched to a 2.73 ERA and struck out 82 in 622/3 innings.

He does have an unorthodox delivery, however, that leads to questions about his consistency and susceptibility to injuries.

Another route that the Mets could go for a closer could be with a trade. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Marlins are expected to shop closer Kevin Gregg. He’s a big step down from Rodriguez and Fuentes but he’s only going to cost $2.5 million next season. With Wagner’s contract still on the books for 2009, the Mets may want to look at cheaper alternatives than the free agents.

The lower tier free agent options at closer would be: Eric Gagne, Eddie Guadardo, Jason Isringhausen, and Kerry Wood. It’s not a great list to choose from. Wood is pretty good but the rest of these guys will give us some major heartache during the 2009 season.

Once the closer spot on the roster is secured, there should still be three roster spots to fill in the bullpen. According the MLB Trade Rumors, the free agent market looks like this (age in parenthesis):

Jeremy Affeldt (30)
Luis Ayala (31)
Joe Beimel (32)
Joe Borowski (38)
Doug Brocail (42)
Shawn Chacon (31)
Juan Cruz (30)
Alan Embree (39) – $3MM club option for ’09
Scott Eyre (37)
Kyle Farnsworth (33)
Casey Fossum (31)
Keith Foulke (35)
Tom Gordon (41) – $4.5MM club option for ’09 with a $1MM buyout
LaTroy Hawkins (36)
Mark Hendrickson (35)
Matt Herges (39)
Bob Howry (35)
Jon Lieber (39)
Jason Johnson (35)
Damaso Marte (34) – $6MM club option for ’09 with a $0.25MM buyout
Trever Miller (36) – $2MM club option for ’09 with a $0.4MM buyout
Guillermo Mota (35)
Will Ohman (31)
Darren Oliver (38)
Chan Ho Park (36)
Horacio Ramirez (29)
Al Reyes (38)
Dennys Reyes (32)
Arthur Rhodes (39)
Juan Rincon (30)
Glendon Rusch (34)
Rudy Seanez (40)
Brian Shouse (40)
Russ Springer (40)
Mike Timlin (43)
Ron Villone (39)
David Weathers (39)
Kip Wells (32)
Matt Wise (33)
Jamey Wright (34)

Again, we’re not looking at a great list here. But Jeremy Affeldt, Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, Damaso Marte, Arthur Rhodes, and Joe Beimel have some talent. I doubt that the Mets would fill all three spots with free agents. There are some arms out there that could have a positive impact on the team though.

What the Mets need to do is to avoid getting into contracts greater than two years with these guys. The three year contract for middle relievers is a killer. It rarely works out well. Look at the Schoenweiss deal that’s killing the Mets now. It’s just a bad idea. The middle relievers are so inconsistent from season to season generally that maxing out contracts at two years has to be a priority. Even if the per season salary is higher than expected, it’s better than getting into a long term commitment to a middle reliever.

Chime in with your thoughts below in the comments section.