Amidst the growing cries for the blood of ungrateful Canadian jabroni Jason Bay, we may have overlooked a significant string of transactions. The Mets signed Kelvim Escobar, Ryota Igarashi, and Clint Everts to a collective, sarcastic "wow!" from a group of fans, who, in their rush to be fashionably discontented, ignored a potentially important change in the Mets' philosophy. Fans are so underwhelmed because the Mets are finally building a bullpen the right way, with flexibility, positive risk, and a budget.
Presenting the 2008-09 offseason, a play, starring:
Kelvim Escobar as J.J. Putz: While Escobar missed all of '08, Putz's performance that season was perhaps the bigger red flag, as he pitched through injury the whole year. Escobar never struck out batters like Putz either, but he was a starter, with a comparable track record. Between these two pitchers with incredible upside but equal injury risk, one cost $6 million, the best defensive LFer in baseball, and a small army of other interesting talent. The other will make $1.4 million next season.
Ryota Igarashi as Francisco Rodriguez: The temptation to match up the Venezuelan former-Angels and Pacific Ocean splitter-specialists was considerable, but Igarashi's numbers are much closer to Frank's than Escobar. In Japan, a typical season for Igarashi was pure K-Rod: a strikeout rate hovering around 11 per 9 and a BB/9 between 4 and 5. And while, yes, the NBP is a kind of high-AAA minor league, Igarashi signed for a total $3 million and Rodriguez $55 million (with vesting option of doom). A $12-million dollar salary disparity is too much for two players with a very good, non-zero chance of pitching almost identically in 2010, and it reflects a failure of process.
That's not to say high-payroll teams should never leverage their financial advantage to sign the best relievers. Spending on a closer is perfectly acceptable when: A. the rest of the roster is well constructed, so the marginal value of win is greater at each position, and B. he's actually worth the money (or close). Paying Francisco Rodriguez $17.5MM in 2012 is unequivocally insane for a team in the Mets position. Last year there were equally good risk/reward signings, such as Trevor Hoffman or Bob Howry, and even some like Jason Isringhausen, who ultimately didn't work out.
It's a lesson in common sense learned too late for Omar Minaya, but maybe not for the Mets. The good news is that we'll have three of these four players in the 2010 bullpen, joining Bobby Parnell, Sean Green, and two more players, who might include cult-hero Brian Socks.