K-Rod’s good value at $37m

Baseball’s New York Mets made a big step recently towards reclaiming their division.

On Wednesday it was reported that the team signed former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim closer Francisco Rodriguez to a three year contract reportedly worth $37 million.

The contract also has performance clauses that if Rodriguez meets could mean he earns an additional $14m if he stays on for a fourth year. That means the contract could be worth $51m.

It was reported earlier that Rodriguez had expectations of a five year deal worth at least $51m.

Rodriguez, 27, filed for free agency this off-season after a phenomenal year.

He set the all-time saves record this past season with 62 saves. That number was five more than the previous mark held by Bobby Thigpen of the 1990 Chicago White Sox.

At first glance this looks like a steal for the Mets. K-Rod had a remarkable year and he has some good years left on his arm.

The Mets lost a bunch of close games this year. Part of it was an inability to score runs late. To correct that problem they’re going to need either a better-hitting bench or different pieces in the line-up. However the other side of it was questions at the closer role.

With Wagner’s health in doubt, the Mets only saved 43 games as a team. Wagner accounted for just 27 and the rest were done on committee. The likes of Ayala, Heilman and Feliciano are decent set-up men but not closers.

With K-Rod in the mix the pressure on the bullpen should lighten.

On the other hand the two biggest issues with K-Rod are his health and his control on the mound, as he allowed on average 4.48 walks per nine innings.

Last year K-Rod appeared in 76 games, including 69 opportunities where he could make a save. That’s a lot of games for a closer, especially for a team that’s playoff-bound.

The idea of his arm getting tired is not far fetched. As his history shows he is no stranger to injury either.

In 2001 he had issues with his pitching elbow and shoulder. At the time he was a starting pitcher and it seemed as if the stress of that style of pitching was too much for his arm.

Sure I’ll concede that it’s unlikely he’ll get near 60 saves next season or thereafter and if that’s what the Mets expect they wasted money. But if K-Rod gives 35 or more saves that would be plenty for the Mets, who desperately need someone to take over for Wagner closing games.

Wagner tore a ligament in his elbow in September and is slated to have Tommy John surgery. He will be out for a year.

Though he has stated publicly he wants to play again it’s doubtful he will play for the Mets again. The reason being the Mets are unlikely to pick up the 2010 $8m option on Wagner’s current contract.

Another positive for K-Rod is his track record as a proven performer over his major league career. In 2005, his first year in the majors, he had 45 saves. Over the past three seasons he has had at least 40 saves or more.

Moreover he has been a three-time all-star, starting back in 2004 when he was a set-up man.

The reason for his success boils down to his pitching style. And no, I’m not talking about his flamboyant celebrations and intense nature on the mound. Rather hitters simply cannot handle the movement on his pitches on a consistent basis.

K-Rod throws essentially four pitches. He hurls cut fastballs away from hitters in the high 90s plus relies on off-speed pitches, namely a circle changeup and two curveballs of different speeds, which have the ability to go south in a hurry and dip in and out of the strike zone.

The only troubling part of this deal is the time involved. Sure 27 years of age is young no matter how you look at it and typically athletes decline at 30 years old. But his pitching days going forward could be short-lived as evidenced by the career of former saves leader Bobby Thigpen.

Thigpen debuted in the big leagues in ’86, at the age of 23, and became the full-time closer for the Sox in ’87. He started out well as he had two straight 30 save-seasons.

After posting 57 saves in 1990, he began suffering back trouble. He would end up constantly battling injuries, stemming mostly from his bad back. Eventually he would play his final major league game in 1994.

Ultimately the Mets are in need of a lot of pieces to challenge Philly and avoid a late season collapse. At least now they don’t have to worry about their closer.