ESPNews reports the New York Mets signed free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) to a three-year deal worth $37 million Tuesday, Dec. 9. The agreement also includes a $14 million vesting option for a fourth year, which would raise the total contract to $51 million. The deal also reportedly includes performance bonuses that are considered reachable.
The signing of Rodriguez finalizes the Mets' No. 1 priority of the offseason: finding a top-of-the-line closer to replace closer Billy Wagner (elbow), who's scheduled to miss the 2009 season. They were also targeting free-agent closers Brian Fuentes (Colorado Rockies), Kerry Wood (Chicago Cubs) and Trevor Hoffman (San Diego Padres).
Rodriguez is coming off the best season of his career with the Angels, setting the all-time single-season record for saves with 62. In his career, he has proven that he is dominant and durable, having landed on the disabled list just once in six major league seasons. However, there has been some concern that his violent throwing motion could eventually affect his health or performance down the road.
Still, in 2008 Rodriguez compiled an ERA of 2.24 with 77 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings pitched. He also posted a WHIP of 1.29, a 2-3 record and seven blown saves. The 2008 season marked the fourth straight season in which he recorded 40-plus saves. This may have been especially tempting to the Mets because of the fact that they have only had three seasons of at least 40 saves in their history. Their bullpen had the eighth highest ERA in the majors last year and struggled to find a reliable replacement for saves after Wagner's injury.
The Angels are now left without a proven closer with Rodriguez departing for The Big Apple. Next in line for the Angels among in-house options are relief pitchers Jose Arredondo and Scot Shields.
Arredondo is a raw talent that shined in 2008, tallying a 1.62 ERA with 55 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP in 61 innings pitched. He had a record of 10-2 and was a big reason why Rodriguez had the opportunity to break the all-time saves record. He registered 25 career minor league saves, including 10 in 17 innings pitched at Triple-A Salt Lake before being called up last year.
Shields is a more proven relief commodity, having 20 career saves in eight seasons with the Angels. Shields also put up solid numbers in 2008: a 2.70 ERA with four saves and 31 holds. Shields was 6-4 while striking out 64 batters in 63 1/3 innings of work. He would seem like the more logical choice to become the team's closer in 2009, given Arredondo's inexperience at the major league level.
The Mets are expecting a lot out of Rodriguez in 2009, especially coming off his record-setting year last season. However, fantasy owners of Rodriguez should temper expectations quite a bit. It is highly unlikely that he will post another 60-save season, and the Mets' current bullpen is not nearly as strong as the Angels' was a year ago.
He should still be taken among the top three closers in most single-year drafts, but don't reach or overpay for him. The Hot Stove season is still red hot, so Rodriguez's value could hinge on any additional adjustments that the Mets make to their bullpen.
Arredondo and Shields already have value as setup men taken late in mixed drafts. However, fantasy owners must remember the Angels could still add a closer via the free-agent market or a trade. It would be smart to wait for an announcement on the situation, but those in keeper leagues should try to acquire one of these players if possible to stash them in the event the Angels tag one of them as the closer. Shields is the safer choice to target given his experience, but Arredondo isn't a bad consolation prize and has more upside at this point.
About Keith Hernandez
Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.
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