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What Signing Francisco Rodriguez Means For The Mets

Year K/9 FIP FBvel Miss%
2005 12.16 3.09 93.3 30.0%
2006 12.08 2.72 94.8 31.8%
2007 12.03 2.70 93.6 33.9%
2008 10.14 3.22 91.9 30.7%
FBvel = average fastball velocity
Miss% = swing-and-miss %

Francisco Rodriguez is a physical examination away from becoming a Met. The Mets have clearly improved themselves for 2009, but could they have done better?

It's not clear that Rodriguez was the best closer available. He might've been, but Brian Fuentes and Kerry Wood each had a better 2008 than Rodriguez (saves aside), so a case could be made that they will both be better in 2009. Wood clearly has the riskier injury portfolio, and Fuentes is the oldest of the three (just barely), but Rodriguez has a lot of mileage on his arm for a young man of 26 and his dip in velocity this season is far from reassuring. Wood has only a single year of full-time relieving under his belt, though it was a brilliant year. He was also the only player of the three to be denied the chance for arbitration from his former team, so his signing would have allowed the Mets to hold onto their first-round pick (if only to hand it to Seattle when the Mets inevitably sign Raul Ibanez).

We can debate the relative merits of these three distinguished gentlemen all day and night; each has his merits and his risks, and certainly in Rodriguez the Mets are getting a very, very good relief pitcher. Perhaps more importantly to the Mets -- and Omar Minaya, for that matter -- Rodriguez was almost certainly the perceived best closer on the market. Where reality and perception intersect is unclear, but if you were to ask 100 casual fans who the best available closer was, I would guess at leat 90% would say Rodriguez. The same could probably be said of your average media columnist or beat writer. None of this is (hypothetical) evidence to any fact about Rodriguez's value, mind you, but as patrickcl pointed out in the comments yesterday, signing Rodriguez instead of Wood or Fuentes gives the Mets -- and Rodriguez -- more leeway with those fans and media types, whatever that's worth.

Also, even the most ardent Wood or Fuentes supporter must concede that Rodriguez is, by almost any measure, a really freaking good pitcher. Sure, there are warning signs, and he certainly wasn't quite as magnificent last season as his saves record might lead some to believe, but he is still one of the more dominant closers in the game. He missed a higher percentage of bats than all but three (resort by 'Contact%') relievers in baseball last year (one of them, Juan Cruz, is also a free agent); he doesn't give up many homeruns; he's only 26, and considering the whispers about a five-year, $75 million contract a few weeks ago, the Mets got him for 3/$37 million which, as someone else pointed out, is fewer total dollars than Francisco Cordero signed with the Brewers for last offseason.

Ultimately, the Mets got their man, they got a good deal, and they have plenty of offseason left to address some of their other weaknesses.