As of midnight tonight, teams may begin negotiating with other free agents. With a deep free agent crop this offseason, this should set off a feeding frenzy for the top dollar free agents available. Mark Teixiera, CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez…these men are about to become very, very wealthy. The free agent starting pitcher market is full of guys who are about to make eight figures, and the free agent left fielder market is full of guys who want Carlos Lee money here in the open market.
For the Mets, the top names that attract the most interest are not Teixiera or Sabathia but Rodriguez and Fuentes. The problems with this team were not in the starting rotation or with the offense, but in the bullpen. The failures of the 2008 Mets came from a bullpen that was utterly incapable of holding leads. Make no mistake – this team absolutely needs to improve in the bullpen. Nobody is questioning that.
Nor does anybody question that the Mets, while they probably don’t need to spend huge dollars on a closer (a great closer can often be created out of nowhere), probably should invest in a new closer if only for PR reasons. They are about to open a brand new ballpark, and they will need to not only overhaul the bullpen, but they will need to do so drastically. To go into 2008 with most of the same cast of characters in place would be tantamount to putting a giant middle finger in the hat where the apple used to be and raising it at each and every Mets fan.
Think of it like this: if you’re remodeling your kitchen, you don’t NEED to buy a new refridgerator. Chances are, somebody out there has a refridgerator in perfect working condition which you could easily integrate into your kitchen that will be a tremendous improvement over the old one. But you know what? When you remodel the kitchen, all anybody notices is the new refridgerator. New cabinets, new dishwasher, even a new oven…that stuff gets ignored. But a new refridgerator? That’s eye-catching. People notice it.
K-Rod is the top-of-the-line super duty new refridgerator. We’ll call him the K-Rod Super-Refridgador Deluxe. He will not only keep your food and beverages at climate-controlled temperatures, he comes with a variety of ice choices (crushed or cubed?), he has his very own water filter, and even comes with a built-in radio so you can listen to…Mets games! Wow! This machine really has it all!
The problem is, the K-Rod Super-Refridgador Deluxe costs a lot of money. I mean, a LOT. is the K-Rod Super-Refridgador Deluxe really worth all of that money just to keep your food cold? Can’t any number of refridgerators handle this same task, without requiring a second mortgage? I mean, the K-Rod Refridgador Deluxe is awesome, no question…but the Fuentes 5000 works just as fine at keeping your food cold, and will require less of a commitment. The Wood 98MPH may not have gotten a great report in Consumer Reports (”tends to break down rather easily”), but could be just as effective at keeping your veggies crisp.
Enough of the refridgerator metaphors. You get the idea. Is the idea of spending $75 million on a PR move justified? At what price does K-Rod become “worth” the money? Is it 4 years $50 million? Is it even lower? I think this is the very discussion going on right now in the Mets’ front office. They are fortunate that market conditions favor them; if this had been last season, K-Rod might have required an even greater commitment, in light of the money made by Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero.
As I’ve said before, closers can be made out of nothing. Perhaps Bobby Parnell or Eddie Kunz are the next great Mets closer. Is it too soon to count on either for 2009? Probably, but by 2010, you’d hope one or the other would be ready to assume the mantle. At that point, wouldn’t it be foolish to be spending eight figures a season on a closer with a cheaper, perhaps better option already on the team? Giving crazy dollars and crazy years might make the Mets’ kitchen look nicer, but it isn’t necessarily the best way to build it.