Several weeks ago, I declared Francisco Rodriguez an “untouchable” member of the Mets, a player who should not be available for trade. On that day, the Mets were just twogames out of first place and the chances of the missing superstars returning from injury were better than they are now. The suggestion of trading the team’s best relief pitcher would have been foolish then, but it certainly isn’t now. “Blasphemy”, some might say. “He’s the Mets’ MVP”, declare others. With hopes of a playoff run essentially dashed, the Mets should look to trade certain players, and Frankie is one of them.
The perception of Frankie’s season is much sunnier than reality. His strikeouts and groundballs are down, and his walks are up. These peripherals are much more useful for evaluating his performance, rather than the stellar 1.90 ERA. This stat has more to do with his lucky .245 BABIP than anything, and his FIP of 3.76 and tERA of 3.47 are more precise measures. These declining peripherals, which were pointed out in numerous places, were just one reason why the Frankie signing this past offseason was a poor allocation of resources by Omar Minaya. With a limited amount of money to spend, Omar handed a three-year, $37 million contract to a pitcher likely to account for just 5% of the pitching staff’s innings. Meanwhile, an older but arguably better pitcher in Brian Fuentes signed for two years and $17.5 million. Before the season, I noted that the Rodriguez/Oliver Perez tandem signed for about the same as Fuentes/Derek Lowe, but the latter duo was far more valuable from 2007 to 2008. Nothing has changed, and here are the win values for all four pitchers in 2009 (Statcorner’s WAR is used for the starters; Fangraphs’ WAR for the relievers as it accounts for leverage):
I’m not including this as some sort of I-told-ya-so statement, and maybe it’s for the best that the Mets didn’t sign Lowe. This is simply a way to demonstrate that it is silly to invest great sums of money in relief pitchers. An above average position player will often be just as valuable as the most elite reliever. In his silly-good 2008 season, Mariano Rivera was a 3.1 WAR pitcher. This equals Placido Polanco’s value in the same year. Omar Minaya was hell-bent on improving the bullpen this offseason, and he accomplished that, on paper atleast. He had no funds leftover to improve the lineup, namely the black-hole corner outfield positions. Big money is better spent on position players and starting pitchers.
Next year’s free agent class is pretty weak (Matt Holliday? Jason Bay? No thank you.) How is this team going to improve? One way is to trade Frankie for major league ready talent or top prospects. Even if the Mets have to eat some of the money owed to him, it is a viable option. The key is to find some fool of a GM will be blinded by the shiny ERA and saves record and overpay for a pitcher who probably won’t come close to living up to his contract. Here are a few possibilities:
Astros: They are once again outperforming their Pythagorean Record, although their bullpen has struggled despite some decent work from LaTroy Hawkins. General Manager Ed Wade is always in a trading mood, but their farm system is one of the worst in baseball. For this reason it would be ideal to seek out a big leaguer in a trade, namely Hunter Pence. He’s an above average hitter who has improved his plate discipline, and is still just 25. His strong throwing arm makes him a solid fielder as well. Pence looks like a 3-4 win player for years to come, a Jayson Werth type in terms of value. Would Wade give him up in a trade? Who knows, but it’s worth inquiring at the least. The Mets would certainly have to sweeten the deal for a player as good as Pence, with a prospect and/or eating some of Frankie’s deal.
Cubs: Kevin Gregg has performed admirably in the closer’s role and Angel Guzman has been a nice surprise. However, Carlos Marmol is walking a batter per inning, Aaron Heilman is Aaron Heilman, and Jeff Samardzija is still learning how to get out major league hitters. The Cubs have grossly underachieved this year but are still very much in the playoff hunt. Maybe GM Jim Hendry would be willing to part with Kosuke Fukudome?
Tigers: With Joel Zumaya once again headed to the DL, the Tigers poor bullpen is looking even weaker. Current closer Fernando Rodney has not blown a save this year, but he is 32 years old and has some injury concerns. Prospects should be the target here, with OF’s Casper Wells and Wilkin Ramirez enticing options.
Finding a team with the financial resources to take on Frankie’s contract is a major obstacle. Realistically, there probably isn’t much of a market for his services, unless the Mets want to be completely ripped off by another team. However, it can’t hurt to atleast make some inquiries around MLB.
I like Francisco Rodriguez a lot. Watching his point-to-the-sky celebration after a save is a highlight of every win, although it’s a rare occurrence these days. However, I like the Mets more and welcome any trade that can improve the team.