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The Search for the Mets' 2012 Closer: non-Proven Closers™

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Hey, Rockies, care to spare a reliever?
Hey, Rockies, care to spare a reliever?

On Thursday, I took a look at three recently injured pitchers who could make sense for the Mets to sign in free agency this winter. Given Sandy Alderson's lack of faith in the organization's internal options and the loss of a draft pick, most likely in the second round, associated with signing a Type A free agent, the Mets don't seem likely to sign a big-name closer.

The Mets threw money at the biggest name available in the past, Francisco Rodriguez and Billy Wagner, most recently. When faced with the awful vesting option in Rodriguez's contract, the current front office traded him away to get out from under the potential $17.5 million salary for a relief pitcher next season. It's very doubtful that this version of the Mets front office will go the route of its predecessor.

It's more likely that if the Mets turn to the free-agent market, it will be for relief pitchers who generally haven't racked up saves in the big leagues but have otherwise been good pitchers, the so-called "setup men" or "eighth inning guys" of baseball. In a market flooded with relief pitchers, the lesser names might be available at a relative bargain. Here are a few that might be desirable.

Frank Francisco: He hasn't been dominant, but he's always been very good while pitching for the Rangers and Blue Jays. A hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, Francisco has always managed plenty of strikeouts, and he's kept the walks down to reasonable levels. On the downside, he just turned 32, but if a long-term deal is avoided, his age may not be a major factor. He had elbow surgery back in 2006, but since then, he's had some trips to the disabled list but avoided serious injury.

Matt Belisle: The 31-year-old righty has demonstrated a fine ability to limit walks with rates below 2.0 per nine innings in each of the past four seasons. Combined with an increase in strikeouts, his ERA with the Rockies is in line with his peripheral rates, and he's never been a closer. The major concern with him is that despite a generally healthy career thus far, he's made a lot of appearances, many of which were longer than one inning in 2010.

(h/t to Brooklyn Dodgers Mets Fan, who points out Belisle is under contract with the Rockies for 2012.)

Mike Gonzalez: He could have made the aforementioned short list of pitchers coming off injuries, but after missing most of 201 with because of his rotator cuff, Gonzalez has made 54 appearances in 2011 with an average fastball velocity of 92.6 mph, identical to his brief 2010 campaign and full season in 2009 with the Braves. He's left-handed and will turn 34 in May, and his strength has been strikeouts. Not unlike plenty of other relief pitchers, he struggles with control, walking 4.11 per nine innings over his career. Gonzalez has 56 career saves, but he's spent far more time in the non-closer capacity.

Jon Rauch: The Blue Jays have an option on Rauch for 2012 at $3.75 million, but the buyout is only $250,000. Rauch is having a poor season, which means there's a chance he'll end up on the market this winter. He's had some experience as a closer with the Blue Jays, Twins, and Nationals. More importantly, he keeps walks to a relative minimum, which helps make up for his moderate strikeout rates. If he's available for little money, he could be brought in as a candidate for the job.

Joel Peralta: Signed by the Rays last winter on a one-year deal, Peralta has been much better over the last three seasons than he was before that. He's old - 36 by Opening Day, to be exact - but hasn't had any major injuries and doesn't appear to have been overworked. Like Rauch, he walks few, but he strikes out more. He's also a guy who could be signed as a candidate for the job.


Up next: potential trade candidates and internal options.