Most Mets fans view Francisco Rodriguez’ contract in the same way they think of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez – bad deals that they just can’t wait to end. My friend Eno Sarris wrote a story recently about how the Mets could utilize Rodriguez in a way to ensure that he did not finish 55 games and that his option for 2012 did not kick in. While I agree with some points of the Sarris piece, I head into 2011 hoping that Rodriguez finishes 55 or more games and is on the Mets next year.
First, I want to go into the way back machine and look at the Rodriguez contract when it was signed. So many people are complaining about this deal now that I think it is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people were in favor of the deal and most even called it a steal for the Mets. In the New York Daily News story about the signing, there were 103 fan comments about the deal. While many were involved with typical Mets-Yankees bickering, here are comments that mentioned what the Mets paid for him:
Nycak – “at the price this was a great move for the Mets. Wagner may or may not be back and if he does the Mets will have trade or set up options. Excellent move!”
Kev86 – “GM’s around baseball are applauding Omars negotiating skills today. Job well done. They are dubbing it the “The Reverse Boras”. The Mets desperately needed a closer and got one of the games best at a good price. Great job! LETS GO METS!”
Mets4ever – “There are many who believe KRod got shafted on this deal because I think they are accustomed to GM’s (????) throwing bags of money around like confetti. I believe it’s fair market value considering that “closers” were not in demand. Good time to buy and good job by the originization for keeping things sensible.”
jblontherun – “Great signing. You sign a record setting closer in his prime at a young age and one who wants to play for this team….at a bargain price? The market place works out well for the Mets”
Andred10056 – “From K-Rod’s perspective, this was an absolutely horrendous year to hit the market. There were/are many closers available AND virtually all big money teams already have their closer. Couldn’t have been a worse scenario for K-Rod. In fact, in light of the foregoing, the Mets probably paid too much…but I guess you don’t want a bitter closer but a halfways happy one.”
Okay, it’s one thing for fans who write in on message boards to approve the deal – how did more stat-heavy people view the deal? Here’s the take of Dave Cameron of FanGraphs:
“On it’s own, the contract isn’t great, and he’ll be hard to trade if they ever decide they don’t want him anymore. But in the specific circumstances that the Mets are in, needing a closer and having significant financial resources that most teams don’t, this deal makes sense for them. Not many teams are in the position to pay $6 million per win – the Mets are.”
Yes, times change and none of the people quoted above would use the same words to describe the Rodriguez contract today. But in evaluating a deal, you should always keep in mind the way it was viewed at the time, as well as how it is viewed in the present. At the time, with the Mets coming off their second straight meltdown, this one mostly the fault of the bullpen, this signing was viewed as a coup.
Now let’s get back to the present.
I agree completely with Sarris that the Mets should avoid using Rodriguez in the last inning of blowout games just to get some work in. There are going to be times that the Mets need to get him some work – but get that in the eighth inning instead. This change in usage pattern should not raise concern from either Rodriguez and his agent or the MLBPA – two entities that are likely to file a grievance if Rodriguez is not used in typical save situations to avoid the contract vesting.
While I would prefer my best reliever to be used in the most pressure-packed situation of the game, this is a battle to be fought at another time. Given the Mets’ financial situation, people are going to be looking at the Rodriguez case with a magnifying glass. Simply, the Mets are in no situation to monkey with Rodriguez’ saves this season because everyone will accuse them of doing it just to save money.
So, I want the Mets to continue to use Rodriguez in all ninth inning save situations that he can handle. And if he finishes 55 games this way, then it has been a good season for the Mets.
Here are Rodriguez’ games finished totals since he became a full-time closer in 2005:
58, 58, 56, 69, 66, 46
The 69 came in his record-setting year with 62 saves. I would be quite pleased if Rodriguez saved 62 games this year with the Mets. So, let’s look at two other years.
2009 –He had 66 games finished in his first year with the Mets. There were 22 times that he was used to finish the game in a non-save, non win or loss outing. Many of these were times when he was brought in for the last inning with the Mets down one run, which is a fine usage for a closer. But many of these could be eliminated and have him beneath our 55 game threshold.
2006 – He had 58 games finished in his second year as closer, when he saved 47 games. Angels manager Mike Scioscia only used Rodriguez one time when trailing in the game. Still, he used him six times to finish a game in a blowout (non-save). Take away those outings and he does not reach 55 games finished.
So, my Rodriguez plan is to use him as normal in save situations and eliminate the extraneous games finished. An ideal situation would be like 2006 above, where he saves 47 games but gets only 52 games finished and the contract does not vest.
However, if Rodriguez goes 2008 on us and saves 60+ games, I would take that in a heartbeat. Last year the Mets had 79 wins and 36 saves or a save in 46% of their wins. If Rodriguez saves 60 games, the Mets will have a lot more than 79 victories. Last year they had 20 wins by five or more runs, another seven that they won by three or four runs with no save and six complete-game wins.
I want Rodriguez’ option to vest because that means the Mets have likely won at least 90 games.
Finally, I want to point out that Rodriguez has generally pitched very well for the Mets. His final 2009 numbers look bad and all anyone remembers of him from last year was the domestic dispute that ended his season. Both of those things are black marks and should not be forgotten. However, neither should the pitching that he did most of his two seasons with the club.
Last year, Rodriguez had a 10.52 K/9, his highest mark since 2007. He also had a 3.30 BB/9, his lowest mark in any season in which he pitched more than six innings. Rodriguez’ 2.20 ERA was his lowest since 2006. His FIP was his lowest since 2004 and his xFIP his lowest since 2006. On the field, Rodriguez was every bit as good as he was in 2008, when he set the Saves record.
In 2009, it was a tale of two halves for Rodriguez. At the All-Star break he had a 1.90 ERA and in the second half his ERA was 6.75 and he had a 1.421 WHIP. Rodriguez has always walked a tightrope, allowing lots of baserunners but stranding a very high number of those. For his career, Rodriguez has an 80.8 LOB%, while the average is around 70 percent. In 2009, his LOB% was 61.7 in August and 39.7 in September.
Basically, Rodriguez has had two bad months with the Mets, which correspond to when the team was woefully out of the race while it had double-digit number of players on the disabled list. Here’s hoping to a repeat of the production that Rodriguez gave on the field last year here in 2011.