Frankie Goes to Hollywood…er, Milwaukee

The Mets hired Sandy Alderson for many reasons, but none more important than alleviating the problems that currently exist and setting the franchise up for success down the road.  He is faced with several obstacles in his way, including the Wilpons’ financial problems and pending litigation in the Madoff lawsuit.  So knowing that he will have a decreased budget to work with going forward, Alderson has to make some crucial decisions and maneuvers within certain parameters.  One decision that was a no-brainer was unloading Francisco Rodriguez and his vesting $17,500,000 contract.  Alderson successfully did just that immediately after the All Star Game this past Tuesday night when he traded K-Rod tand $5,000,000 o Milwaukee for two players to be named later.  However, I assure you that these players were given names at birth…we just won’t know what they are until later this season.

No, those cops are not escorting K-Rod from the bullpen to the mound.

K-Rod was signed to a three-year contract following the 2008 season when the Mets had a desperate need for a shutdown closer after Billy Wagner got hurt and the bullpen cost them a chance at the playoffs.  Rodriguez was coming off of his record-setting season where he saved 62 games with the Angels, so it made perfect sense for then-GM Omar Minaya to bring K-Rod to Queens.  Unfortunately, the Mets would endure a brutal 2009 season mired with injuries to all of their star players.  As a result, the need for K-Rod’s closing abilities was moot.  In 2010, the Mets played well above expectations for the first half of the season and were in the middle of the wild card race until a post All-Star break trip to the west coast ended any hopes of a winning season.  In the middle of all that, K-Rod found himself in hot water when he physically assaulted his ex-girlfriend’s father in the Mets family clubhouse in front of other players’ families.  He was suspended and sustained a hand injury in the process, thus relegating him to be the “punch” line of jokes and mockery of the team. 

Coming into 2011, K-Rod had done a nice job of rehabilitating his image by attending anger management classes and re-establishing a rapport with his teammates.  From all accounts, he was a positive influence in the clubhouse this season and had made great strides in improving his reputation.  On the field, after blowing his first save opportunity the second game of the season, he was as dominant as he ever had been up through June.  He saved 21 consecutive games and wasn’t allowing baserunners as he normally tended to do.  The Mets were hovering around .500 and still in the wild card race as K-Rod anchored a surprisngly effective bullpen.  But, he had a provision in his contract where his $17,500,000 salary for 2012 would kick in if he finished 55 games.  Through the All Star break, he had already finished 34 games, well on pace to vest his contract.  This was an albatross for Sandy Alderson to deal with as he faces a decreased payroll and a desire to re-sign Jose Reyes.

Alderson decided to enter the market first as he shopped K-Rod around.  Eventually, the Brewers agreed to take on more of his salary than any other team, so the deal was made.  It was one that had to be made for the Mets’ long-term interests.  As far as the short-term, yes, technically the Mets are still in the wild card race.  But the reality is that they won’t be for very long, even with K-Rod still on the roster.  So Alderson made the move and stated that it was one that was expected, and one that should not have much of an impact on the team as it is currently comprised.  Bobby Parnell, Pedro Beato, and Jason Isringhausen are all candidates for the closer’s job and all have the ability to succeed.  Parnell will get the first chance given his ability to throw 100 mph fastballs and his continued improvement since being recalled from the minors.

The whole point of this is that Alderson recognizes what the Mets must do to set themselves up for future success.  That includes signing Reyes, and by ridding themselves of K-Rod’s contract they are in a better position today to sign him than they were three days ago.  Whether they do or not is another story. 

From a fantasy baseball perspective, this trade could be fatal for K-Rod’s value.  The word coming from Milwaukee is that Rodriguez and John Axford will share closing duties.  I am not sure what exactly that means or if there is a method that Ron Roenicke plans on implementing to determine who does what each day.  But the fact remains that the Brewers are now on the hook for K-Rod’s vesting option if he finished 21 more games.  Rodriguez’s new agent, Scott Boras, will likely try and re-negotiate the vesting option in exchange for a new long-term commitment, so this should allow the Brewers the flexibility to use K-Rod as often as they want.  But to rely on K-Rod for saves at this point is dangerous.  Sure, he has a better and longer resume than Axford.  But Axford has been spectacular this year as a follow-up to his great rookie season in 2010.  There is no reason to displace him as the closer.  K-Rod’s fantasy trade value is severely diminished, but I wouldn’t recommend you just deal him away for nothing.  He could still contribute with strikeouts, ERA and WHIP, as well as holds for leagues that count them.  And there is a chance he will still pick up some saves if Roenicke truly does mix and match the closer’s role.

This was the first big trade of the season, and more are likely to follow.  Don’t be surprised to see the Mets involved several more times.

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