Until now, I’ve refrained from weighing in on the Francisco Rodriguez debacle simply because off-field issues don’t interest me much. Should they have any impact on a team’s on-field results whatsoever — which is debatable, at best — they’re nearly impossible to quantify. But now, with the revelation that the Mets have added K-Rod to the disqualified list and will perhaps seek to render the balance of his contract non-guaranteed, there are on-field repercussions, and more importantly, long-term contractual and roster considerations.
The on-field fallout is not such a huge problem in and of itself. A .500 team without the services of its closer for the season’s final month-plus is hardly crippled. The overarching issue, though, which is only now coming to light because the Mets and their fans suddenly find K-Rod distasteful, is that he was given a hideous contract in the first place.
Look, to a certain degree, it’s encouraging that the Mets are trying to rid themselves of this albatross — motivation be damned. But here’s where I go all stark-raving mad and get myself into a tizzy: The Mets only now want to ditch K-Rod because he’s a public-relations nightmare, not because his contract is an egregious misallocation of salary. This is what the kids nowadays are calling a fail. It’s an epic roster-management fail, in fact.
It’s not as if one can argue K-Rod was signed by a different, less-informed front office, or that the current regime has since undergone some magical enlightenment with respect to the value of closers. We know the former isn’t true, and unless the Mets did something drastic — like force their front office read a useful piece of baseball analysis published after the Dead Ball Era — the former isn’t, either. What we do know is that K-Rod was signed by the Mets prior to the 2009 season, and that the Mets have routinely given out bad contracts to undeserving players for a very long time.
The deal K-Rod signed then breaks down as such, according to mlbcontracts.blogspot.com: $8.05, $11.5 and $11.5 M in 2009-11, then an easily attainable vesting option for 2012 worth $17.5 M (with a $3.5 M buyout should that option not vest). The following will trigger the 2012 option: 55 games finished in 2011, and 100 games finished combined in 2010-11, and doctors declare K-Rod healthy after 2011. K-Rod finished 46 games this season before getting hurt, meaning he would finish over 100 games between 2010-11 if he finishes 55 next season. All that would remain for the option to vest is the medical clearance from doctors.
The Mets could argue, albeit tenuously, that the first three years of the contract aren’t that bad. I’d argue otherwise, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, closers pitch 70 innings per year. Yes, you want a good one in there as often as possible the same way you want a good starter pitching as often as possible. But at what cost? Next, because closers’ seasons are so compressed, their output is subject to wild fluctuations. Whereas a starter has 200-plus innings to show what he is, a reliever has about one-third of that. A couple bad outings for a reliever can suddenly add up to a bad season. Check out K-Rod’s 2009 season for further proof of that.
But even if we give the Mets a pass on the first three years of K-Rod’s deal, it’s the fourth year — the vesting option — that’s simply unforgivable. Consider that Carlos Beltran, whose virtues I enumerated last week, will earn $18.5 M next season, the final year of his seven-year deal. Yes, that Carlos Beltran, the everyday center fielder of the New York Mets since 2005, the one who’s routinely played like an All-Star and MVP candidate at a premium defensive position. Granted, Beltran’s deal was signed prior to the ’05 season, K-Rod’s prior to ’09. I’m not an economist, but I know that the $1 M difference between their salaries can’t be chalked up to inflation.
The Mets’ tactic here has been typically reactionary. First they seemed rather indifferent to K-Rod’s actions. All the crucial figures — Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya, Jerry Manuel — expressed disappointment but ultimately offered support. Then, sensing fan and media outrage, they got tough and now are seeking to renege on their ridiculous investment, an opportunity which has only presented itself by virtue of K-Rod’s unfathomable stupidity. That’s the bitterest pill to swallow — that the Mets think nothing of the $17.5 M they carelessly committed to a bit part of their roster and everything of how they look after once again getting caught with their pants around their ankles.