Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Mets' Winter Meeting Transactions: Pros And Cons

The snow hasn't begun to fall yet, but we saw a flurry of activity yesterday for the Mets in the Late Fall Meetings (winter doesn't start for another two weeks, so the Winter Meetings are a misnomer).  The Mets needed bullpen help so they stocked up with three veteran relievers.  They also made a "change-of-scenery" trade, acquiring one centerfielder coming off a down year for another.

Let's take a look at what these three separate transactions will do for the Mets and what this will do for the team in 2012 and in the future.

Jon Rauch

Sandy Alderson made it clear that the Mets were in dire need of relief help.  He admitted as much when discussing how the team suffered in the pen after the trade of Francisco Rodriguez last July.  The hodgepodge bullpen featured a combination of inexperienced career minor leaguers and washed-up veterans, and the Mets blew many late inning leads because of it.  A change was definitely needed for the 2012 season.

In his first acquisition of the night, Alderson signed Jon Rauch to be the Mets' primary set-up man.  Before Pedro Feliciano led the National League in appearances for the Mets, that distinction belonged to Jon Rauch.  Rauch made 85 appearances for Washington in 2006 and followed that up with a league-leading 88 appearances in 2007.

His career has been a series of ups and downs since leaving Washington in 2008.  In parts of two seasons in Arizona (2008-2009), Rauch was 2-8 with a 4.87 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.  Then he went to Minnesota for 1½ seasons (2009-2010) and flourished with the Twins, going 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.  He also racked up 21 saves as a temporary replacement for closer Joe Nathan.  Finally, as a member of the Blue Jays in 2011, Rauch had a subpar season (5-4, 11 saves, 4.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP).  He missed time in August due to an emergency appendectomy and ended the season on the disabled list with torn cartilage in his right knee.
Pros:  Rauch is nicknamed "The Wookie" for his tall frame and sometimes resemblance to Chewbacca, instantly making him R.A. Dickey's best friend in the clubhouse.  He also has excellent control, walking only 28 batters over the last two seasons (in 109.2 IP) and possessing a career ratio of 2.7 walks per nine innings.

Cons:  Sometimes Rauch can be a little "wild in the strike zone", as evidenced by the 11 home runs he gave up last season in only 52 innings pitched.  Also, as seen in his career recap above, Rauch's performance has varied drastically from team to team.  He can be very good, as he was in Minnesota, or he can be maddeningly inconsistent, as fans of the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays can surely attest.  Will another change of scenery bring out the good Jon Rauch?


Frank Francisco

A teammate of Jon Rauch in Toronto last season, Frank Francisco has been a very consistent pitcher since 2008.  Over the past four seasons, his ERA has never been higher than 3.83 or lower than 3.13.  He has also given no fewer than 40 hits and no more than 49 safeties in each of the last four years, while allowing between 20 and 22 earned runs per season.  He has achieved this level of consistency despite having different roles from year to year. 

Francisco served as the set-up man in Texas in 2008, before saving 25 games as the Rangers' closer in 2009.  He went back to the set-up role for Texas in 2010, before becoming a closer for the Blue Jays in 2011, saving 17 games in Toronto.  Francisco will not be continuing his set-up man/closer roller coaster ride for the Mets in 2012, as Terry Collins has already anointed him as the team's new closer.

Pros:  Francisco is a fireballer who will rack up a ton of strikeouts, something that has not been a strength of the Mets' bullpen in recent years.  His 10.5 K/9 IP rate over the past four seasons is among the best in baseball.  Francisco has also proven that he can handle any relief role in the bullpen and finished the 2011 season strongly (1.37 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and held opponents to a .188 batting average after the All-Star Break).

Cons:  Although he is a strikeout pitcher, his strikeout rate has gone down slightly from year to year (11.8 K/9 IP in 2008, 10.4 K/9 IP in 2009, 10.3 K/9 IP in 2010, 9.5 K/9 IP in 2011).  His WHIP has also increased annually since 2009 (1.12 in 2009, 1.27 in 2010, 1.32 in 2011).

Angel Pagan traded for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez

After an outstanding second half in 2009 and a breakout season in 2010, Angel Pagan took a step back in 2011.  After managing to keep his batting average around .300 for most of '09 and '10, Pagan could only muster a .262 average last season.  He also had his lowest on-base percentage in four years as a Met (.322) and made too many questionable baserunning decisions.

Andres Torres had a similar situation to Angel Pagan in 2011.  Torres shocked everyone with his breakout 2010 season for the World Champion San Francisco Giants (.268 batting average, 43 doubles, 8 triples, 16 HR, 63 RBI and 26 SB in 139 games).  But he had a miserable follow-up campaign in 2011 (.221 batting average, 24 doubles, one triple, 4 HR, 19 RBI and 19 SB in 112 games), causing him to lose playing time once the Giants acquired Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

Ramon Ramirez had a shaky start to his major league career in Colorado, but has flourished since he left the Mile High city after the 2007 season.  In the four years since his departure from the Rockies, Ramirez has compiled a 2.77 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP, while holding the opposition to a .220 batting average.  But since becoming a Giant at the trade deadline in 2010, Ramirez has been one of the most unhittable relievers in the majors, compiling a 2.07 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a .194 batting average against him.  He also didn't give up many long hits as a Giant, holding opponents to a .267 slugging percentage and allowing only two home runs to the 388 batters he faced.

Pros:  Angel Pagan for Andres Torres straight up would have been a bad deal, as Pagan is younger than Torres and even with a down season in 2011, still performed better than Torres did for the Giants.  The addition of Ramirez, a quality arm in the bullpen with an extended period of success, makes the deal more attractive.  Plus, Andres Torres can serve as a stopgap in center field until Kirk Nieuwenhuis is ready for the majors (hopefully by late 2012), similar to the way Rey Sanchez held shortstop warm for Jose Reyes until his call-up in 2003.

Cons:  The Mets acquired a centerfielder with 27 HR and 118 RBI.  That's not his total for one season.  That's what Torres has amassed in 1,423 major league plate appearances over parts of seven seasons.  Torres also has 4,444 plate appearances over 1,035 minor league games.  That means Torres has over three times as many plate appearances in the minor leagues as he has in the majors.  When a player who will be 34 by Opening Day can say that about his professional career, that's not something to be proud of.  It also doesn't say much about his ability to stay in the major leagues.  Pagan has a better chance of replicating his 2010 season than Torres has of doing the same.

We owe (the fans), we owe (the fans), so it's off to work we go!

The 2012 Mets improved themselves at the Late Fall Meetings by adding three quality arms in the bullpen.  Jon Rauch will be the primary set-up man and can be counted on to pitch as many days as he is needed.  Frank Francisco may not have dominant numbers, but he has been a model of consistency over the past four seasons and is a legitimate strikeout pitcher.  Ramon Ramirez has the potential to be the best reliever in the Mets' bullpen.  He doesn't depend on the strikeout to retire batters.  Rather, he makes opposing hitters swing at his pitch, and allows mostly singles when he does give up hits, which over the past few seasons has become a rare sight.

I can deal without Andres Torres in the outfield, but at least he does possess some speed, which the Mets will need now that Jose Reyes is no longer on the team.  Plus, there's always a chance that he might be able to find some of that 2010 magic in his tank, although is .221 average and 19 RBI in 398 at-bats last year reminded me a little too much of Luis Castillo.

For now, it appears that Sandy Alderson is trying his best to mold this team in his image.  He is getting quality players without spending top dollar or too many years of commitments.  It's still too early to know what this will mean for the 2012 Mets.  But at least it shows that it won't just be 20 Buffalo Bisons and a handful of veterans sitting in the dugout at Citi Field next season.  For the amount of money Sandy has to play with, I'd say he's doing a pretty good job.

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