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Thoughts on the Putz-Rod Era

If you've ever watched the MTV show "Rob and Big", you know that Big Black's mantra is "Do Work." While I'm pretty sure Mets GM Omar Minaya didn't have any contact with Big Black before he went to Vegas this past week for the Winter Meetings, it's clear that these words were weighing heavily on his mind. Vegas would not be a time for sitting at black jack tables, staring at all the 22 year old girls at the Hard Rock's "Rehab," or lounging in Mandalay Bay's Sportsbook for 27 hours straight. It was time to Do Work. And by "Work," I mean revamping an entire bullpen that caused 2 consecutive division collapses.

When the Mets signed K-Rod on Tuesday, many asked me if I liked the deal. Well yeah, obviously I "liked" signing one of the best closers out there for 3 years at a bargain price. But they couldn't stop there. From September 13th-28th last season, the Mets lost 9 games. Out of those 9 games, only 1 of them was because of a blown save. The other 8 losses were because of the fact that our starting pitchers were giving up grand slams to the opposing pitcher (Thanks Jon Niese!), or because or middle relief turned baseball diamonds into human merry-go-rounds. I'm well aware that Billy Wagner blew 7 games throughout the year, but in the critical point of the season the Mets didn't collapse because of their closer. So yeah, I was happy the Mets signed K-Rod, but there was more work to be done.

Over the years the bullpen has been proven to be one of the most valuable commodities in baseball. But more often than not, no one really knows these guys. Sure they know the big name closers who make all the money and come into the game to their favorite high-energy songs. But did anyone really know who J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour were before they led the Rays (and their lockdown bullpen) to the World Series? Did anyone west of Pennsylvania really know who Ryan Madsen was before he stepped into the spotlight of the World Series to prove he is the 8th inning guy that gets the ball to Brad Lidge? Probably not. The middle relievers are the low-level stars that may not get much recognition, but are essential to winning games.

Omar knows this, and knew the current makeup of this bullpen wasn't working. Cue the trade to get rid of Aaron Heilman and Joe Smith, and bring in J.J. Putz and Sean Green. Joe Smith was one of the few relievers I actually liked in this bullpen, and I'm sad to see him go. But picking up Putz to control the 8th and get the ball to K-Rod is a steal in my mind. If he returns to his 2007 injury-free form, these 2 will be lights out, and will make games much shorter. I couldn't really find one downside to this deal, other than the fact that should J.J. falter in any game, his last name gives the New York papers the easiest backpage headlines of all time.

This move also takes the pressure off Duaner Sanchez to try to return to his 2006 form. He can now enter games in the "less pressure" 7th inning, or be a matchup pitcher who only needs to get 1 or 2 outs. Throw in the maturing Brian Stokes and Bobby Parnell, and this bullpen is starting to shape up already. Will it hold up and get us through the 2009 season, who knows? But at least the new acquisitions and current makeup are an upgrade over simply adding Matt Wise last year (thanks for your 8 games).

There are obviously still more questions about this team going into next season. Who will be the 4th and 5th starters behind Johan, Maine, and Pelfrey? Will Jerry Manual go with the 3 man platoon in left field of Tatis/Evans/Murphy like he did last year? And will Luis Castillio be the 2nd basemen for the entire year? After 2 straight collpases, there's no rest for the weary in the Mets organization. It's still time to "Do Work."

Mets Blog Writer - Jeff Bertinetti

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