Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal writes an excellent piece on how Francisco Rodriguez’s current contract could affect management’s use of him as the closer. Here are the details in a nutshell: if K-Rod finishes 55 games this season, his $17.5M option will automatically kick in. If the Mets try to prevent this relatively easy stipulation from happening, they will most certainly hear it from the players’ union.
Costa offers a solution, writing:
But there is one way the Mets could keep Rodriguez from finishing 55 games while plausibly arguing it is for baseball reasons. They could essentially redefine the role of a closer, from a pitcher who is used almost exclusively in save situations to one that is used in the most important situations in a game.
This strategy is risky because of the aforementioned players’ union, but I think it does make sense. How many times has a game been blown in the 7th or 8th inning by a mediocre pitcher while the best reliever is sitting on the bench? It happens all the time in baseball.
Some closers believe that the 9th inning (or a save opportunity) is a different animal and pitching any other inning doesn’t rev the engine quite the same way. See: Wagner, Billy. However this does not mean that there aren’t more important opportunities in a particular game to use your best relief option.
If Terry Collins is pressured by upper management to use Rodriguez in more important late inning situations, it would be very interesting to see how this affects not only the outcomes of games, but the players’ union as well.
In a time where the Mets are in such financial trouble, wouldn’t it be prudent to investigate an idea like Costa’s? The 2012 buyout clause is $3.5M, which is a small chunk of change compared to the $17.5M owed to him if he finishes 55 games. It would be silly not to entertain the idea.