Late last night while all eyes were on the Albert Pujols drama, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson pulled off a trade and two free-agent signings which altered the landscape of their putrid bullpen. All the moves were reported within one hour. The trade involved sending CF Angel Pagan to the San Francisco Giants for CF Andres Torres and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez. The club then signed Jon Rauch to a one-year/$3.5 million contract and Frank Francisco to a two-year/$12 million contract. One club source has stipulated that the closer role will be won by competition in spring training, but looking at the contract sizes, we’d have to assume they prefer Francisco in the role.
We’ll analyze the trade first and then the free-agent signings to see how the Mets fared. Below are the last two seasons’ stats for Pagan and Torres.
At first glance we see two players who had respectable seasons in 2010 and slumped in 2011. Pagan took a step backward indeed, but Torres looked like he fell off the map. I’m not sure the Mets are getting the same player in return. Torres’ defense is much better than Pagan’s, but Torres’ OBP of .318 for a leadoff hitter is deplorable and he’ll need to help with the bat more than the glove. Torres doesn’t steal as many bases as Pagan and the slugging percentage between the two is a wash. The Mets were obviously looking to unload Pagan due to an anticipated bump in salary in arbitration (looking at about $5 million for 2012) and get a similar player along with a middle reliever. That brings up Ramon Ramirez.
Ramirez has shown steady performance as a late game reliever since he was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Giants in 2010. He manages to prevent base runners despite a low SO/9 and a high BB/9 and he keeps the ball in the park. A SIERA of 3.13 and xFIP of 3.47 in 2011 shows Ramirez’s ERA should climb a bit. All said, he is a good middle reliever. Nothing special, but he won’t implode too often either.
While the Mets have dropped payroll considerably now that Jose Reyes has signed with the Miami Marlins, they are still in budget mode. By letting Pagan go, they will essentially use the money which was going to be given to Pagan for two players who will fit straight into their plans. Alderson’s concern heading into the offseason was the bullpen and Ramirez is an upgrade to what the Mets had in 2011. Alderson was not nearly done as he immediately came to agreements with two former Toronto Blue Jays’ relievers, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco.
Both Rauch and Francisco had their ups a downs with the Jays in 2011. Francisco was the initial closer and lost his job after posting a 8.86 ERA in May. He proceeded to have a fantastic June, poor July and finished up strong the rest of the season. Rauch on the other hand had a strong beginning and then was not all that good from the middle of the season on. Francisco’s peripherals are better than Rauch in all aspects so it would seem that Francisco will be the one handed the reigns of the closer role unless he is down right miserable in spring training.
Rauch’s contract is one-year $3.5 million which would mean a 0.8 WAR would be required from Rauch to have a positive effect. Last season Rauch turned in a -2.6 WAR so there is certainly some risk. He has never had a spectacular season despite being the “closer” at different points for a few teams. He is and has been a fall back option.
Francisco’s two-year/$12 million deal is certainly a bargain when compared to the money being thrown at closers this offseason. For it to work for the Mets, he would have to produce a WAR of about 2.7 for the two years. Francisco’s best season in terms of WAR was in 2008 with a 1.5. He turned in a 0.5 WAR last season. So while this is an inexpensive option for the Mets when compared with other teams’ decisions, he does not come without risks.
It is not difficult to see that Sandy Alderson is in a tough position right now. He has very little money to spend and not much in the way of pieces to trade. In the end, he did upgrade the bullpen from last season but that is not saying too much as it was a major thorn in the Mets’ side. He did so without committing too much in terms of salary or term. What they lose from Pagan with the bat is somewhat offset by what Torres provides in the field. For less money, Torres has the ability to be the same offensive player as Pagan by getting back to the season he had in 2010. The moves were not flashy, but taken all together, put the Mets in a better position for 2012.