There were always assumptions made of this season, and early today one became reality in a positive stroke for the Mets.
The Mets traded reliever Francisco Rodriguez and $5 million in cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for two players to be named later. Never mind the two players, the Mets won because they got out from under Rodriguez’s daunting $17.5 million vesting option.
The Mets’ press release was timed at 12:25 a.m., so on this date in club history the fire sale began. And, make no mistake, there will be a sale regardless of how well the team has played, but we knew that all along.
Carlos Beltran, who said at the All-Star Game he would accept a deal, is on deck.
“This trade allows us to develop and more fully utilize other members of our 2011 bullpen and offers some payroll relief as well,’’ GM Sandy Alderson said of shedding Rodriguez.
Rodriguez’s option kicks in if he finishes 55 games, which would have been a certainty at the rate he was going. That’s something the financially struggling Mets desperately needed to avoid as they deliberate what to do with Jose Reyes.
Let’s face it, as well as the Mets played in the first half, they face too steep a hill to reach the playoffs as a wild card, much less win the division. They trail Philly by 11 games and wild-card leader Atlanta by 7.5, but have four teams to leapfrog to reach the Braves.
Of all the players the Mets reportedly were seeking to deal, Rodriguez was the priority because of his option. That priority became more acute after Rodriguez dumped his agent and hired Scott Boras.
Rodriguez was to be paid $11.5 million this season, and considering the $5 million they are kicking in, the Mets will pay all but $750,000 due him.
So, who closes now?
Since Jason Isringhausen has performed successfully in that role – and pitched well this season – he should get first crack. That is, of course, until they trade him, which is a strong possibility as the Mets turn into sellers. In that case, Bobby Parnell, who has not fully grasped the eighth-inning role, would likely get the opportunity.
I figure as the season wears on, Parnell would receive most of the closing opportunities as to groom him for next year.
As for Rodriguez, since the Brewers weren’t on his no-trade list, they weren’t influenced by Boras’ “my guy won’t set up,’’ static. Rodriguez will be plugged in as the set-up reliever behind John Axford, so in all probability Milwaukee will only be on the hook for the $3.5 million buyout instead of the entire option.
Because the Brewers’ risk for the option is minimized, it made sense for them to make the trade and go for it in the winnable National League Central. They might as well try to win now before losing Prince Fielder.
In evaluating Rodriguez’s stay with the Mets, it was flawed from the outset as then GM Omar Minaya grossly overpaid when he offered the option on top of the three-year, $37-million contract.
When Rodriguez hit the market, early reports had the price tag at five years and $75 million, numbers that likely influenced Minaya’s decision to offer the option. However, Minaya was bidding against himself as there were concerns about Rodriguez’s health and losing something off his fastball, not to mention his combustible temper.
As it turned out, the Mets were the only real suitor for Rodriguez. Even his old team, the Angels, weren’t interested.
Rodriguez’s temper surfaced late last season when he punched the father of his girl friend outside the family lounge at Citi Field and broke his hand. The Mets investigated voiding his contract, but worried about conflict with the Players Association, brokered a deal with Rodriguez where they would not have to pay the balance of last year’s salary in exchange for the opportunity to come back.
In parting, Rodriguez tweeted his appreciation to Mets fans, and said the trade is “a new opportunity.’’
It’s also a good opportunity for the Mets.