2009 Analysis: J.J. Putz

jjputz-sadWhen the Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez to be their 2009 closer, it was a move that had to be made to get their bullpen back to where it was before Billy Wagner blew out his elbow. But when they traded for J.J. Putz, it signified the Mets were committed to ensuring that the bullpen could not be blamed for falling short of the team’s expectations — with Putz in place as the linchpin.

It was a nice idea, and just the “splash” needed to ease the worries of potential season-ticket buyers.

But there was one problem with the plan: J.J. Putz was damaged goods.

The Mets completely ignored an elbow issue that kept Putz out of action for over a month of the 2008 season — an issue which in fact was chronic and could be traced back to 2006.

In an irresponsible display of self-denial, the Mets continued to ignore Putz’s elbow issues — and manager Jerry Manuel rode him hard — even after a mysterious drop in velocity in spring training, a flare-up revealed in an MRI taken in May, and an admission of pain in June.

As it turned out, the linchpin was broken, the wheels fell off, and the Mets season eventually spun out of control. The failure of Putz wasn’t the single thing that destroyed the Mets in ’09, but his inability to perform — and the questionable deal that brought him to Flushing — were two symptoms of bigger problems at the top.

Unfortuately, Mets fans never saw J.J. Putz at his best, and visions of the greatest one-two bullpen combo since Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland were never realized. Now, the same people who pulled the trigger on the Putz deal last December are responsible for another decision: whether to exercise his $8.6M option for 2010. On the one hand, it’s a no-brainer — why would anyone pay eight and a half million dollars for a 33-year-old setup man coming off elbow surgery? But then again, if the Mets are as financially solvent as Jeff Wilpon consistently insists, can the Mets afford NOT TO pick up the option? Remember, they gave up seven players — including three promising prospects and three MLB-ready pitchers under the age of 30 — in return for Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed. The Mets can’t get those players back, and have very little in the way of resources to replenish that personnel AND find a legitimate setup man. For that reason alone, it’s difficult for the Mets to let Putz walk and call the deal a wash — a team can’t trade away that volume of young talent and come away with a fifth outfielder and a shaky middle reliever.

No matter what, the Mets need to find someone to handle the eighth inning of 2010 ballgames. Quality relievers available on the free-agent market are sparse, with a handful approaching Putz’s potential. The short list includes Jose Valverde, Rafael Soriano, Octavio Dotel, Mike Gonzalez, and Billy Wagner. All in that group have questions of their own — be they related to health, age, affordability, or all three. Of course, the Mets could pretend that the eighth-inning answer will come from within (Bobby Parnell? Jenry Mejia? Bradley Holt?), but that’s the stuff pipe dreams are made of.

We know that the fate of J.J. Putz will go in one of two directions: either the Mets will re-sign him, and he’ll continue to be a bust, or he’ll move on to another team and return to being a lights-out closer. That’s just the way the luck of the Mets goes.


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. Read: Whether or Not to Bring Back Putz October 18, 2009 at 12:00 pm
    […] Janish, in a post to Mets Today, wonders whether or not the Mets should exercise the $8.6 million option for J.J. […]
  2. Mike October 18, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    I know you didn’t take a strong stance here but it appears you are in favor of retaining Putz’s services. My problem with this is we don’t know if he’s healthy. He was slated to come back in August. Why didn’t that happen? He suddenly felt pain again and there’s some sort of tear was my impression. I think they should not renew the option – but attempt to resign him at a $3 mill a year with incentives. If he’s healthy, he owes the Mets one. I felt Omar should have been fired for this move alone. I assumed the Mets did their due diligence before trading all that talent for him, but apparently not.

  3. joejanish October 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm
    Mike – I didn’t take a strong stance in either direction because of the last paragraph. The Mets are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    I’d written a few months ago that the Mets would be smart to let go Putz and pick up Billy Wagner’s option — for exactly the reason you bring up (questionable health). Now that Wags is gone, I’m not sure what the right decision is. Ideally, the Mets reject the option and work out a deal with Putz, as you suggest. But if they can’t? I don’t know … let him walk, sign Octavio Dotel or Mike Gonzalez to a two-year deal (that would likely cost around $8-10M) and cross your fingers? In which situation are the Mets better off? This is a tough one, IMHO.

  4. Walnutz15 October 19, 2009 at 8:33 am
    Let me preface this post by stating that picking up an $8.6MM option, for a set-up man (on this roster, anyway) coming off a significant arm injury — and a history or arm trouble, to boot — is beyond ludicrous.

    On a team that gives you every excuse in the book NOT to sign an impact player, $8.6MM simply can’t be justified.

    Then again, paying a $1MM buyout — to hope to get him to sign a $5MM or so deal as a set-up man is, too. That’s still $6MM+ on a late-inning guy with a very well-known history of arm issues.

    If Putz is “nice” to the Mets, then maybe they can save a couple million bucks in trying to bring him back — after declining his option. They’re not gonna get him “cheap”, that’s for sure…..simply because he’s got no reason NOT to explore the market.

    There are plenty of possibilities for him; on better teams, to boot.

    In the real world of Major League Baseball…other teams need a closer — and would LOVE one at a reduced rate.

    – Cubs
    – Nationals
    – Orioles
    – Rays

    I don’t see him back in a Met uniform……especially for what his option costs.

    If he’s here at that price, then I’m looking at it from a standpoint of: “We’re concerned with K-Rod.”

    That wouldn’t be a good sign, either.

    You’re right, Joe — they’re screwed either way they go with this. A recurring theme with this organization.