What To Do With Billy Wagner (and JJ Putz)

Reports are that Billy Wagner is throwing 94 MPH and, barring a setback in Florida on Friday, could return to Flushing as soon as Sunday.

Naturally, the plan will be to showcase the lefthander, in the hopes of pulling off a late-season trade. But it should also be an audition for next year.

If Wagner can consistently approach the mid-90s with his fastball, and get big league hitters out, a number of contending teams will be calling. The Mets should not be so quick to dump Wags for the best offer presented. Rather, they should set a price — a prospect, or package of prospects, that meet or exceed a specific set of requirements.

While it’s true that prospects are at a premium in this economy, there are a number of teams fighting for postseason spots. What does every single team need? Bullpen help. Every contending team can use the services of a healthy Billy Wagner — in fact, he could be seen as a difference-maker down the stretch. The Tigers, Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies, Marlins, Angels, Rays, Giants, and Rangers have all had question marks at closer, and might consider Wags in such a role. But even if Wagner can’t be expected to close this year, all of the aforementioned plus the rest of the contenders would be interested in adding someone of his experience and skillset to their 7th and 8th inning options. One of those teams may be desperate enough to give the Mets a worthy return — something, for example, more worthy than the pittance they received for a still-dominant Armando Benitez at the deadline in 2003.

The key to the negotiation — assuming Wagner proves healthy — is that the Mets would need to be serious about picking up the lefthander’s option for 2010. In fact, I believe the Mets should pick up the options on both Wagner and J.J. Putz — IF they both show they are healthy and pain-free. Crazy, right? Not really … let me explain.

First, the free agent market this winter won’t have many top-flight relievers available. The best of a woeful bunch are the ageless Trevor Hoffman, questionable Kevin Gregg, Mike Gonzalez, and Jose Valverde. That’s not much for the above-mentioned teams to bid for, which means most of them (as well as a number of other teams) will be exploring the trade market for 2010 bullpen help. If the Mets can’t get what they want in return for Wagner now, it’ll be because teams are unsure of his health and don’t want to give up value for a one-month rental. But, if Wagner and Putz throw well in September for the Mets, and they’re under contract for 2010, teams will be more inclined to give up valuable assets in order to obtain them.

The options on both are not unreasonable if they’re healthy — for Putz it’s $8.6M, for Wags it’s $8M. If the Mets kept both and K-Rod for 2010 they would have perhaps the greatest bullpen of all-time, but also the most expensive. They’d also have teams banging on their door on a daily basis with trade offers — a big contrast from previous years.

Now let’s consider the alternative — assume the Mets buy out the options, at a cost of $2M. For those of you pining for oodles of draft picks, you may be disappointed. Because the Mets might not offer arbitration to either pitcher (for fear of the player accepting), in which case the team would not get a compensatory draft pick. Further, if they do offer arbitration, it’s denied, and the player signs with a club that one of the 15 worst in MLB (that’s half the league), then all the Mets get is a supplemental pick and a second-round pick (for Wagner, who is expected to be a Type A free agent). It is this possibility that motivates the Mets to trade Wagner now — the idea being that they’d rather get something now than nothing later.

Speaking of, did you know that J.J. Putz currently projects as neither a Type A nor Type B free agent? So if the Mets let him walk, they definitely won’t get anything in return. So that huge deal from last winter will have been for Jeremy Reed and Sean Green. (And while we’re on the subject, Carlos Delgado is looking like a Type B — which will net the Mets a supplemental pick, IF they offer arbitration.)

Also, assuming the Mets are without Wagner and Putz, what does the 2010 bullpen look like? Does it look any better than the one we’re currently watching? Any improvement over 2008? Once again the Mets will have a solid (if nerve-wracking) closer, a reliable LOOGY in Pedro Feliciano, and five big question marks –the biggest one concerning the eighth inning. Bobby Parnell’s status as a possible starter doesn’t help that, and I doubt we’d be happy knowing Sean Green and Brian Stokes are the leading candidates. If there was someone on the farm worthy of consideration, he’d be here now. In short, the Mets will need to look outside the organization to improve the bullpen for 2010.

Close to $17M for two non-closers is a lot of dough, for sure. But the Mets will have Brian Schneider’s $5M and Delgado’ $12M coming off the books — so there’s the money right there in the event they can’t move one or both of the relievers over the winter. I doubt the Mets are going to be bidding on the services of people like Matt Holliday or anyone else of consequence anyway, so it’s not like they’ll need that money for something else. There are enough overpriced garbage contracts (for example, Fernando Tatis $1.7M, Alex Cora $2M, Tim Redding $2.2M, Livan Hernandez $1M) going away to swap for lower-priced roster fillers.

Again, everything hinges on the health of both Wagner and Putz. Certainly, it is a gamble to hold on to both. If the Mets can get something significant for Wagner right now, then by all means do it, it’s a no-brainer. But if the return is a nondescript A-baller, then why not hang on to him, and pick up his option, as well as Putz’s (again, if he’s healthy). It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have too many quality arms in the bullpen. For once, the Mets would be entering the winter meetings in a position of strength.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. edfever August 13, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    i wrote about this early my thoughts are to pick-up both options and keep Wagner as a left hander set-up man and maybe spell k-Rod against tough lefties from time to time. Trade Putz in the off-season to a team that needs a closer.

    I’ve heard some say they think Wags would be a neg. force in the clubhouse. i think he’d been on his best behavior since he’ll be playing for a contract. Any thoughts on the clubhouse aspect.

  2. joejanish August 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm
    Clubhouse shmubhouse. This team’s clubhouse “leader” for the past three years has been Carlos Delgado, and we see where that got them.

    I doubt that Wagner is a poison, and further doubt he’d get in the way if anyone else ever stepped up. He may be outspoken but is harmless.

    Too much has been made of preserving a love fest in the Flushing dugout. The 77-78 Yankees had the worst clubhouse of all-time, and they won back to back WS. Maybe a little tension would do the Mets well.

  3. […] Janish of Mets Today looks at what to do with Billy Wagner, when he likely returns from the disabled list this […]
  4. Eddie August 13, 2009 at 2:44 pm
    I wrote about this today also. They should sign both and be in the position of power but the problem is that the Mets seem to even screw that up and end up with Lance Broadway, Jason Vargas or some other schlub who shouldn’t be in a uniform.

    I say dangle one to the Rays for Crawford if they pick up the option. Rays need a closer and the Mets need a LF who can also play CF if Beltran is done for the year and can also lead off if something happened with Reyes or Reyes returns but isn’t as fast as he was due to the mysterious leg injury.

  5. isuzudude August 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm
    On paper, having Wagner and Putz around to setup for Krod looks awesome, but let’s keep things real. The Mets aren’t picking up both their options, and they’d be wise not to. Do we really want $16.6-mil in payroll tied into 2 aging, injury prone relievers? There’s no telling how crowded the Fire Omar bandwagon would get if both wind up hurt or ineffective next year, which is a very real and strong possiblility, while consuming a healthy chunk of available cash that could be spent filling holes the team will have at C, 1B, LF, and SP.

    Eddie: again, on paper, a Wagner/Putz-for-Crawford deal looks nice on paper, but if you are in the shoes of the Rays, why would you do that deal? Yes, they need a closer, but you think they’d deal their starting LF all-star for an overpriced, oft-injured closer whose only under control for 1 year? If Tampa got Matt Garza from Minnesota for Delmon Young, I’m sure they think they could do a lot better than Putz or Wagner for Carl Crawford.

    I’m very much on board for bringing eiter Putz or Wagner back in 2010, but not for the money that’s currently on the table. At the very least their options should be declined and let them go to arbitration. That way you either end up with them anyway but for a lower cost, or they sign elsewhere and the Mets get draft picks. I realize if they both sign elsewhere it leaves the Mets with some gaping holes in the bullpen, but I’m inclined to believe that good relievers, IF USED PROPERLY, are much easier to find/develop, than starting 1B, LF, or pitchers. And if we had our choice, would we rather Wagner & Putz for $16.6-mil in 2010, or, let’s say, John Lackey and Nick Johnson?

    Let’s show that we’ve learned something from heavily relying on old, expensive, and injury prone players. Like Moises Alou. Like Orlando Hernandez. Like Pedro Martinez. Like Carlos Delgado. These are the players people love to kill Omar Minaya for relying on, yet there is very little difference between them and Wagner and Putz.

  6. joejanish August 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm
    ‘dude, a few problems …

    First, players almost never get a lower salary as a result of arbitration. That said the Mets could wind up paying MORE than the $8M options on these pitchers.

    Second, the main reason you keep these two is so there’s something to trade this winter, to fill needs that otherwise won’t be addressed. Who do the Mets have to offer — and can afford to give up — in a trade that will bring back an impact pitcher, position player, or a few promising youngsters? No one that I can see.

    I don’t see Wags and Putz as “injury prone” if they prove to be healthy. Pitchers who come back successfully from TJ surgery nearly always return to a level close to what they’d been, and maintain it for several years — so I believe Wagner will remain healthy. If it was shoulder surgery I would be on board with your assessment. As for Putz, the bone spur has been addressed, but I don’t know enough about that type of injury and surgery to know whether he’ll get back to being the guy he was. Maybe you’re right on him.

    Further, you seem to have glazed over the point about the draft picks — the Mets aren’t getting any for Putz, for sure, and might not receive any for Wagner.

    Also, $17M is not getting John Lackey and Nick Johnson — not when Oliver Perez gets 3/36M. Maybe you get Nick Johnson for $17M over two years — but he’s an injury risk and you seem to be concerned about injury risks. I would much rather spend the whole $17M in one year on two players than tie it up over two years for one. But that’s me.

    Finally, if it’s easier to find/develop good relievers then why have the Mets failed so miserably in that attempt? Why do we see them in the same predicament with their bullpen every year?

    LFs and 1Bs are actually a dime a dozen. They are the best hitters you can find who don’t have a position. Problem is the Mets are one of the few teams in baseball who can’t find / develop hitters. It’s hard to find any organization over the past ten years as incredibly inept at developing offensive players as the Mets. Bats are supposed to be the easy ones to find.

  7. Eddie August 13, 2009 at 5:11 pm
    Crawford was an example. But the needs match. Crawford’s option is $10M and the Rays are probably not going to sign him long term if they were considering trading Crawford, Pena and Kazmir at the deadline.

    With Wagner they get a closer who would be signed for the year and actually less than Crawford. If they had a closer last year things might have been different and this year too.

    Or Putz who is still young and they might be able to sign long term for less than the others.

    Crawford is one of those guys you don’t just find everyday and he fits the Mets needs. Most LFs and 1Bs are run of the mill players but then you have the Crawford, Texiera and a few others who aren’t that easy to replace.

    Crawford can also play CF and if the rumors of microfracture for Beltran are true then he becomes even more of a need type player instead of a want type player.

    But like I said, he was an example. Guess that wasn’t stated clearly enough.

    And neither one is injury prone, well Wagner does have a few but JJ Putz was a bone spur that was never taken care of. He should recover fine but with the Mets you never know…

    But the Mets can spin 2 closers to other teams and get some players in here. You can’t survive on Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis and the others for a whole season like this year.

    It’s time for the Mets to make moves to get younger, more dynamic and more versatile. Sign and trades on the 2 closers would be a very good first step in doing it.

    I doubt the Mets would be “stuck” with either of them. At the winter meetings Ricco and Omar will be beating people off with a stick since there are no premier closers coming to the market this winter (not that I can think of right now anyway).

    But Lackey and Johnson? eh…
    Nick Johnson is injury prone and Murphy looks like he might be the same type of player though it may take time for him to bloom.

    Lackey is decent but not who I’d be spending money on. There are a few guys who will be on the market who could be difference makers or at least better than what the Mets currently have.

  8. Mark August 13, 2009 at 9:23 pm
    Yikes. That is a ton of money to spend on middle relief. If there is a budget involved here it would make much more senes to go after someone like Lackey. Assuming Putz and Wagner will be healthy is a terrible idea. Toronto just released B.J. Ryan who like Wagner was a lefty reliever who underwent major surgery. True you aren’t going to get anything if they walk away, but nor would you if they stayed.
  9. joejanish August 14, 2009 at 1:18 am
    Mark, Lackey is not coming to NYC for a mere $17M — he’s going to command a Derek Lowe type deal.

    No one is “assuming” anything about the health of these pitchers. The premise of this post — stated more than once — is that the Mets should pick up the options IF these pitchers prove healthy before the end of the season.

    Further, BJ Ryan is a terrible comp. First, his success was brief and was mostly due to a weird delivery — the quintessential “trick” pitcher. On the other hand, Wagner has been a dominant closer for the last decade, with overpowering stuff. Second, Ryan threw just hard enough (about 90-92) to fool people before his injury, and after TJ surgery, lost enough velocity (down to 87-88) to make himself very ordinary and hittable. In contrast, Wagner is touching the mid-90s, which is plenty to combine with his slider. If Putz can approach a similar velocity, then he also can be expected to perform well enough to hold down a setup role (or better).

    Finally, the reason the Mets pick up the options is to “sign and trade” at least one if not both pitchers. So the budget issue doesn’t have place in this argument.

  10. mic August 14, 2009 at 9:40 am
    Remember 1994-95? Not sure if its that year exactly but David Wells, Chris sabo, Craig Biggio, Dave Cone and others turned down more money NOT to come to the Mets.

    My point is that if this front office/owner ship (JEFF WILPON) do not straighten themselves out then this is what we face again. I for one propose a super GM post for OMAR, a GM post for Ricco, bring in another resource to sit with Ricco and double hat as Farm director AND for Wilpon to publicly take a step back.

    1. The closer situation sure is a mess. (Reference MLB rumors on closers). If I was GM I’d try to deal all THREE. I’d keep Wags and deal Frankie IF he could get me better return, right NOW. Then keep Wags next year. Putz was a mistake and I’ve said that since day 1. In fact again I say someone blew a deal last offseason.

    2. This team misses Delgado. At this point I am not so sure he does not get a 1yr extension with incentives.

    3. LF. Again I am looking at Jason Bay. Given his current funk, I am not sure Boston brings him back.

    4. Trades: If there is a trade for Crawford I’d be inclined to deal Pelfrey to the rays. The Rays get salary relief, the Mets get their LF, heck maybe beef the deal up…..

    5. If off the Reyes trade sauce. And I am more inclined to agree that Beltran could also net the better return.

  11. […] than letting Wagner walk and getting nothing in return (though, I stand by my feeling that the Mets could’ve used Wags as trade bait this […]