Too "Manny" Problems, Two Easy Answers (Part One)

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Oct. 22, 2008

If you had told me, with 17 games to play last season, the New York Mets would not only blow a seven-game lead and miss out on postseason play in 2007, but would finish the following season in a nearly identical way, I would have told you I had a bridge in Brooklyn I wanted to sell you.

In what can only, and very simply, be described as two of the most pathetic finishes in the history of professional sports, the Mets find themselves on the outside looking in for a second straight season.

Making matters worse, they get to watch their division rivals take on a team which features their own former top farm hand starting Game One of the World Series. 

So while Scott Kazmir and the Rays match up with the Phillies, the Mets and their fans can look forward to an offseason of change, hopefully featuring some major roster turnover.

The problems plaguing the Mets in each of the last two seasons can be traced back to their bullpen and their lack of clutch hitting.

Both of these problems only grew worse from ’07 through the end of this past season, yet both problems have very realistic solutions, should the Wilpon’s be willing to deepen their already bottomless pockets.

The easy, quick fix in the bullpen is Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels' closer who recorded a major-league record 62 saves in 2008.

Making the need for Rodriguez more urgent is the fact that Billy Wagner is expected to miss all of the 2009 season following reconstructive elbow surgery. 

There are plenty of reasons the Mets may opt to fill their closer void with somebody other than Rodriguez, who will certainly command a big contract with a hefty price tag.  Among the reasons the Mets may look elsewhere start with the financial aspect.

They are already on the hook for paying all of Wagner’s 2009 salary, which is in the neighborhood of $13 million. Figure K-Rod will receive something in the ballpark of five or six years and $75 to $90 million, which would put the Mets on the hook for nearly $30 million for closers, active and not.

There’s also the thought that K-Rod has not only lost some of the life on his fastball, but his very violent, unorthodox delivery will land him on the disabled list at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Committing a lengthy contract to pitchers is no longer a trend in baseball, and while the Mets did give Johan Santana six extra years, contracts like his will continue to be seen only among the real pitching elite (for instance, you can bank on CC Sabathia cleaning up nicely when he signs his name on the dotted line of his new deal).

Well, money shouldn’t be an object for an owner ready to open the doors to a new ballpark with his own cable network. The Mets' payroll won’t see the big drop-off you would expect with the contracts of Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez, and Orlando Hernandez expiring, as the club has indicated it will be picking up Carlos Delgado’s $12 million option, while their young veterans like David Wright and Jose Reyes will see their salaries increase.

The payroll at this point, despite the harsh economic times, shouldn’t play too heavily into the decision-making of a team that must win at all costs, following two very disappointing seasons (not to mention the heartbreaking loss in Game Seven back in 2006).

Handing Francisco Rodriguez a blank check wouldn’t be a bad idea, and while the rest of the bullpen needs work (I could probably write a book discussing the Mets' bullpen), giving the team a reliable closer just getting ready to enter the prime of his career would ensure that the teams blows fewer than the 30-some-odd games they did, despite leading late in games. 

The other issue with Rodriguez of course has been his durability, which in itself isn’t an actual issue so much as the speculation surrounding his violent motion and decrease in MPH over the last year or two is.

At just 27, Rodriguez has seen the DL just once in his career, dating all the way back to 2002, and his violent delivery is what it is, and simply shouldn’t be held against a guy who just broke the all-time saves record for a first-place team. He’s pitched in and was part of a World Championship team and has been playoff tested. 

Has his velocity gone done? Sure it has, but the guy still recorded 62 saves, and his changeup is among the best in baseball. The Mets were able to get a Cy Young worthy season from Santana, despite an obvious drop in velocity, and he pitched in more than 200 innings.

The Mets need to make sure that if and when they send a lead into the ninth inning, the guy coming out the bullpen knows how to close games and can be counted on. The skeptics will also likely point out the fact Rodriguez blew seven games, which is fair. 

However, the Mets missed out on the postseason by a mere game, and had their bullpen—Billy Wagner included—blow late-game leads upwards of 30 times (Wagner himself had seven blown saves in only two-thirds of a season). 

For the Mets to open their new ballpark and expect any confidence from their fanbase that 2009 will extend beyond the final game of the regular season, signing Francisco is a no-brainer, regardless of contractual terms. The bullpen desperately needs stability, and he would provide it.

The other big need, clutch hitting, screams for a solution I don’t know how willingly the Mets are interested in perusing, but it would be a solution that, regardless of cost or long-term consequence, would work. That solution is Manny Ramirez.  

...to be continued.

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