Mets Are Interested In Brian Fuentes, Or So We're Told

Someone once thought I was better than Francisco Rodriguez, and they didn't mean in a "not punching old men" kind of way.

Jon Heyman tweeted earlier that the Mets are among 87 teams to have shown interest in free agent reliever Brian Fuentes. Fuentes signed a two-year deal with the Angels following the 2008 season, who needed Fuentes to replace Francisco Rodriguez, who had just signed a three-year deal with the Mets. Fuentes, Rodriguez, and Kerry Wood were all available that offseason, and while a reasonable case could have been made for signing any of the three, and even though Rodriguez turned out to be the least scrupulous human being of the three, he has been the best pitcher of the lot to this point even if his $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 must give Sandy Alderson the cold sweats.

In the two years since he last hit the open market Fuentes has struggled a bit, striking out fewer batters and walking more of them than he had in Colorado. He's also among the most extreme flyball pitchers in the league, which would be mitigated somewhat by Citi Field but less so by most other parks. As you might imagine from a sidearming lefty, Fuentes is more effective against left-handed batters than right-handed ones, and that disparity has become more pronounced in recent years.

Year OPS vs LHB OPS vs RHB
2006 .640 .684
2007 .598 .630
2008 .471 .596
2009 .589 .786
2010 .371 .696

Matt Cerrone of Metsblog likened him to the recently departed Pedro Feliciano, which is an apt comparison in terms of role (lefty specialist) and prospective salary demands (two years, $8 million). They differ considerably in three areas:

  1. Durability. Feliciano has averaged 86 appearances per season since 2007. Fuentes has averaged just 61 appearances.
  2. Batted ball tendency. Feliciano has a career 1.91 ground ball rate (ratio of ground balls to fly balls). Fuentes's career mark is 0.75.
  3. Platoon split. Fuentes has allowed a career .701 OPS to righties and .607 to lefties. Feliciano has allowed a career .795 OPS to righties and .580 to lefties.

As Tony Soprano once said, you can't put shit back in the donkey. Feliciano is gone so it's not as if the Mets are in a position to choose between these two lefties. Fuentes is probably the better pitcher while Feliciano is more dependable. The remaining questions are: Is Fuentes good enough to warrant a similar contract to Feliciano's, and will the Mets outbid 86 other teams to get him signed?

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