Early this morning the Mets got out from a big 2012 contractual obligation by trading Francisco Rodriguez and cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for two players to be named later. The cash they sent will essentially cover the remainder of Rodriguez’ 2011 contract. The Brewers will be responsible for either Rodriguez’ 2012 salary or his buyout. With John Axford as their closer, it is doubtful that Rodriguez will close games for Milwaukee, making it unlikely that he will finish 55 games and automatically vest his option year.
On the surface, it may appear that the Mets are giving up on the 2011 season with this trade. But instead we should view this deal as something that had to be done. The Mets could have used Rodriguez more carefully this year and only use him to close games in save situations, making it unlikely for the option to vest. Instead, they chose to use him more liberally than that and if he had stayed with the Mets he certainly would have reached 55 games finished, barring injury.
The Mets figure to use a co-closer approach, with Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell taking over the save chances. Isringhausen has been more effective this year when he gets a day or more of rest between appearances. That’s a tough spot for a closer. But Parnell is more of a wild card in performance. He’s been pitching great since his recall but was anything but that early in the season.
Regardless of how the Mets carry on in the closer’s role for the rest of the season, one thing is certain:
It’s the end of an era.
Now, it may not be an era that we will recall fondly, but there’s little doubt that Rodriguez’ time in Queens marks the distinct front end of a certain time period. Hopefully, it will mark the back end, too. The Mets were coming off back-to-back late-season fades before they signed Rodriguez and they certainly would have made the playoffs in 2008 if Billy Wagner had not gotten hurt and the bullpen blew a bunch of saves in his absence.
There was no doubt the Mets needed to add a closer in time for the 2009 season and Rodriguez was the best one on the market. However, there were several available closers and then GM Omar Minaya was able to sign Rodriguez to (what at the time) was viewed a s a bargain contract for a guy coming off a season in which he set the single-season saves record.
The three years prior to Rodriguez joining the Mets, the club made the postseason once and was eliminated on the final day the other two seasons. However, once Rodriguez joined the team it was like he brought a black cat into the clubhouse. The Mets were done in by injuries the entire time that Rodriguez suited up for the club.
During Rodriguez’ tenure, the Mets only had their full lineup the first five weeks of the 2009 season. In that span they went 17-13 (.567) and were in first place in the East. Then Carlos Delgado got hurt and nearly every other player joined him on the DL at some point or another. Last year, the Mets were counting on Daniel Muprhy to be their starting first baseman and he ended up missing the entire season. This year Johan Santana has been sidelined since Day 1 and has been joined by Jason Bay, Chris Young, Angel Pagan, Ike Davis, David Wright and Jose Reyes, among others.
And despite all of those injuries, the Mets are a game over .500 and within distance of the Wild Card. Part of the reason they remained in the hunt was the performance of Rodriguez, who has been a reliable closer in 2011.
It will be sad to see someone else besides Rodriguez close games for the Mets the rest of the way. But it was a trade that had to be made. It would have been crippling to have Rodriguez on the 2012 Mets to the tune of $17.5 million. It would have hurt to have had to pay him $3.5 million to go away. Hopefully that money will be used to bring back Reyes. It would be nice if Isringhausen/Parnell proves able to handle the closer’s job for 2012.
But now that Rodriguez is gone, hopefully the injury curse that has ravaged the team the past two-and-a-half years will be lifted. And if the Mets could ever go back to fielding their expected starting squad, the team would be back in pennant contention.
And that will be K-Rod’s legacy with the club. The 2009 to mid-July 2011 Mets — Rodriguez and the injuries era.