2009 Analysis: J.J. Putz
When 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.