The $17.5 Million Problem

Much has been written about Francisco Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option for 2012. It’s an option that the Mets cannot let vest. If it does, it could set back the rebuilding process by another year. 

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the option becomes guaranteed if:

55 games finished in 2011, and
100 games finished in 2010-11, and
doctors declare Rodriguez healthy after 2011

K-Rod finished 46 games in his abbreviated 2010 campaign, so 55 games finished in 2011 would satisfy the first two conditions. The rest is in the hands of the capable Mets medical team.

krodBased upon Rodriguez’s career, he’s a lock to finish 55 games (unless he slugs his girlfriend’s father again).  Since becoming a full-time closer in 2005, he finished at least 55 games every year through 2009. It’s likely he will do it again in 2011.

But the Mets cannot let it happen. They have roughly $60 million coming off the books after 2011. That will buy a lot of replacements, most likely starting pitching, a power hitting outfielder, a second baseman, resigning Jose Reyes or finding a new shortstop and a new, cheaper closer. If they have to take K-Rod back at $17.5, that means the Mets will not be able to afford to fill a couple of those much-needed spots.

The Mets will have to carefully manage Rodriguez’s appearances all season long. They just can’t stop using him in September — that would be too obvious and just begging for a grievance. I would expect to see Rodriguez on the mound only in save situations. He will likely not be brought in if the lead is more than three runs. And he probably will not take the mound just to get some work if he hasn’t pitched in a while and the Mets are getting blown out, as is the custom with closers.

Another thing I think we will see is K-Rod being pulled from a game if he blows a save. How often do closers (not just Rodriguez) stay around to finish up the top of the ninth after serving up the tying and potentially winning runs? If the home team fails to send the game into extra innings in the bottom of the ninth, that counts as a game finished for the losing closer. I think Terry Collins will be ordered to pull him and let someone else finish the game.

(Incidentally, I don’t think this is an entirely bad idea in general. If a closer just doesn’t have it one day — and that does happen sometimes — why let him finish the inning and possibly give up even more runs? Pull him out, just like you’d do with a starter or a middle reliever).

The only way the Mets will allow the option to vest is if they are in the thick of the pennant or wild card race. We’d all love to see that happen, but let’s be realistic. The Players Association is sure to watching this closely, so the Mets have to be smart about doing this. Or, they could let him finish all the games they want, then hire Jeff Gillooly on the final day of the season to work his magic, rendering him “unhealthy” after the season.

Oh, and thanks Omar Minaya. You’re just the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t you?

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