Mets get their ninth-inning man
LAS VEGAS -- Francisco Rodriguez's new contract won't become official until he passes a physical exam, at which point New York Mets fans can look forward to three years of fastball-flinging, fist-pumping, ninth-inning contentment at Citi Field.From now until the introductory news conference, you'll have to color manager Jerry Manuel theoretically euphoric. Manuel earned raves for his player and media relations skills in guiding the Mets to a 55-38 record after taking over for Willie Randolph in June, but he could only do so much in the face of all those bullpen hijinks. Once closer Billy Wagner was lost for the season and ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery, the Mets relied on Aaron Heilman and Luis Ayala to close games down the stretch, and Manuel was subjected to more stress than one man should have to endure. "It was a tremendous learning experience for me, because you had to manage to the last out," Manuel said Tuesday. "You didn't manage six or seven innings and say, 'Boom, I've got it set up this way.' I had to stay in tune until the very last out. And that's growth. As painful as it was, it was growth." The pain should ease and the horrific memories should abate by Opening Day, when K-Rod comes out of the 'pen to the accompaniment of Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina." Now there's a closer with an edge. Is this the way Rodriguez envisioned it? Hardly. In June, when Rodriguez was well on his way to breaking Bobby Thigpen's single-season save record, his agent, Paul Kinzer, was looking at a five-year deal for at least $14 million a year. Time and circumstances conspired to put a crimp in Rodriguez's dream payday. First the U.S. economy went in the tank, and then a glut on the closer market put all the principals and their agents on edge. Rodriguez's negotiating clout was undermined by the presence of Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood and Trevor Hoffman on the free-agent market and the availability of J.J. Putz, Bobby Jenks and Huston Street through trade. Mets general manager Omar Minaya prudently lined up the candidates and made it clear: Here's what we're prepared to offer, and if you want to fool around, we're ready to move to Plan B. "The Mets did a good job of leveraging the market," said an American League official, "and K-Rod was probably smart to take the deal even though it might not have been as much money as he expected." While Rodriguez took a haircut financially, his three-year, $37 million deal comes up just short of Brad Lidge's recent $37.5 million contract with the Phillies. Rodriguez's deal includes a vesting option for $14 million, and according to a baseball source, lots of eminently attainable incentives if he stays healthy. Rodriguez and Lidge are now tied for the second-highest annual salary among closers behind Mariano Rivera. And since K-Rod is a mere 26 (he turns 27 on Jan. 7) he'll be back on the market again at either age 29 or 30. Even if you subscribe to the notion that the save is an overrated stat, Rodriguez's overall portfolio is stunning. His 194 saves since the start of the 2005 season are the most in the majors. His ratio of 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings is third-best in history behind Lidge and Rob Dibble. And his career batting average against is .189. According to Stats Inc., if you include every pitcher with at least 400 innings, that's the best in the game since 1921.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.
WHAT A RELIEF
The closer-hungry New York Mets on Tuesday agreed to a three-year, $37 million deal with free agent Francisco Rodriguez, sources told ESPN. Story
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