Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fill In At Closer, Fill Out Your Pink Slip

A hug before leaving.  (Getty Images Photo)

After having an excellent season with the Mets in 2013, LaTroy Hawkins will be pitching elsewhere in 2014.  Hawkins, who finished the year as the Mets' closer after Bobby Parnell was sidelined with a season-ending injury, signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies on Monday.

Never mind that Sandy Alderson said he wouldn't pay a 41-year-old reliever that kind of money, even though Hawkins gave the Mets his best statistical season since 2004, posting a 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 13 saves at the age of 40.  But if Hawkins was aware of recent Mets history, he should've known that he was about to become a goner.

In 2011, Francisco Rodriguez was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers during the All-Star Break.  After the trade, Jason Isringhausen became the Mets' closer, saving seven games - including his 300th career save.  The following season, he traded apples for oranges, leaving the Big Apple for Orange County.  Isringhausen pitched in 50 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, but did not pitch in the majors in 2013.

One year before Isringhausen finished the year for K-Rod, another pitcher was forced into closer duties for the Mets when Francisco Rodriguez couldn't finish the year with the team.  After injuring himself when he became Frankie Knuckles in front of his son's grandfather, Hisanori Takahashi filled in as the team's closer, notching three wins and eight saves over the season's final two months.  The 35-year-old Takahashi was not re-signed by the Mets following his versatile "rookie" season in 2010.  Instead, he chose to sign with the Angels, spending a year and a half in Los Angeles, followed by short tenures in Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Billy Wagner began the final season at Shea Stadium as the Mets' closer.  But a season-ending injury forced Omar Minaya to acquire Luis Ayala in August 2008.  Ayala saved nine games as Wagner's temporary replacement.  And by temporary, I mean his two blown saves, two losses and 14.40 ERA over the season's final two weeks guaranteed he wouldn't be a Met in 2009.  Since then, Ayala has bounced around more than his pitches did in the left and right field corners of Shea Stadium in his six weeks with the team.  The right-hander has collected paychecks from the Twins, Marlins, Yankees, Orioles and Braves since he allowed the final run to cross the plate at Shea Stadium on a back-breaking blast by Dan Uggla on September 28, 2008.

When Braden Looper was in the final days of the two-year contract he signed with the Mets prior to the 2004 season, he required season-ending surgery to repair a blown AC joint in his right shoulder.  In stepped Roberto Hernandez, who picked up two wins and three saves over the final two weeks of the 2005 campaign.  But the Mets allowed Hernandez to leave as a free agent, and the 40-year-old reliever inked a one-year deal to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006.  Hernandez was traded back to the Mets (along with Oliver Perez) when Duaner Sanchez had a case of the munchies and got into the wrong taxi cab in Miami, but Hernandez did not record another save as a Met.

Roberto Hernandez should've pitched in this game instead of Braden Looper.

LaTroy Hawkins had a wonderful season for the Mets in 2013.  After becoming the team's closer on August 6, Hawkins pitched in 23 games and was 13-for-14 in save attempts.  Hawkins had pinpoint control as the team's closer, striking out 18 batters and walking only one in 22⅓ innings.  Opposing hitters had a .229 on-base percentage and a miniscule .272 slugging percentage against Hawkins, collecting just two extra-base hits in 81 at-bats.

Usually, those numbers are what you'd expect from a young, stud closer.  Someone like Craig Kimbrel.  In fact, going back to August 6 - the day Hawkins became the Mets' fill-in closer for the injured Bobby Parnell, Kimbrel went 16-for-17 in save opportunities with 31 strikeouts and five walks in 23⅔ innings, allowing a .211 on-base percentage and .224 slugging percentage (three extra-base hits in 85 at-bats).  Those numbers weren't that much better than what Hawkins did as the Mets' closer.  But because Hawkins is going to be 41 next month, he's not worth $2.5 million for one year, according to Sandy Alderson.

Perhaps Alderson should have given Hawkins another chance to be one of the team's top relievers in 2014, just like he was in 2013.  But Alderson must know about the team's recent history.  He surely has to know how relievers who fill in as temporary closers for the Mets never stick around with the team.  And who is Sandy Alderson to mess with tradition, right?  

Goodbye and thanks for playing, LaTroy Hawkins.  You should have been given another chance next year.  Instead, you're just in the same class as Roberto Hernandez, Luis Ayala, Hisanori Takahashi and Jason Isringhausen.  That's some consolation prize.

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