NL East: What Color Flag Are The Mets Waving?

The Mets trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers has left many wondering if the Mets are waving the white flag on 2011.

The fact that K-Rod is now an ex-Mets closer should come as no surprise.  His 2012 option was an albatross on this team as soon as last season ended.  As a quick recap – all Rodriguez has to do is close out 55 games this season and his option for next year, along with its $17.5 million price tag, will kick in.  That’s roughly $7 million more than his expected market value, should he become a free agent.  Removing K-Rod’s potential contract from the books means more money available to retain Jose Reyes, or if they’re unsuccessful in that, the ability to bring in a few helpful pieces.

The proper use of the closer was an automatic issue for the front office, the manager and even the MLBPA to consider since Opening Day.  After Rodriguez notched his 23rd save and 34th game finished in the Mets 89th game, he was clearly on track to surpass the magic number 55.  More important though, was his performance.  Rodriguez showed that he was still an effective reliever, but not one around which to plan a future, and certainly not one to overpay.  He also showed other teams that he could be a help to their postseason push.  In other words, he made the job of trading him relatively easy for the Mets.

But what kind of a message is sent when a team working to stay relevant in the Wild Card race trades their closer?  While the necessity of a closer is an arguable concept, for the sake of this discussion we’ll move forward as if every contending team needs a closer.  And now the Mets will have to use Bobby Parnell, Jason Isringhausen,  Pedro Beato, or some combination of those.  K-Rod may not be the same pitcher he was a few years ago, but he certainly puts a little more fear in hitters than the others just mentioned.

So it’s easy to see how some would assume that the Mets are moving past this season and focusing on the future.  Furthermore, it makes sense that many expect Carlos Beltran to be the next to go.  But let’s take a deeper look…

As explained, the need to get rid of Rodriguez had more to do with next year’s contract than with obtaining the minor leaguers the Mets are going to get in return.  Unless Rodriguez was a lights out closer, which he wasn’t, there was really no need to forsake the future and keep him.  Beltran is a different story.  Beltran will be a free agent after this season.  He also has a provision in his contract that states the Mets cannot offer him arbitration, thus the Mets will not be able to get any type of compensation when another team signs him.  So it would seem like trading him would be a good idea.  However, unlike K-Rod, Beltran is a difference maker.  He ranks among the top 3 Mets in every important hitting category.  He was the Mets lone All-Star representative.  Especially with the injuries to Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis, Beltran’s bat is a key to the Mets success.  Furthermore, for the Mets to trade him, they’ll probably have to pay some of the remainder of his rather high salary.  So the only way the Mets trade him is if they get something special in return.  There are few teams out there in need of Beltran’s services who would be willing to pay the hefty price it would take to get him.  The same could be said for many of the other Mets rumored to be on the trading block (Isringhausen, Wright, Mike Pelfrey, etc.).  As long as the Mets stay in a race, Mets GM Sandy Alderson would have to be wowed by an offer in order to get rid of them.

Now if the Mets fall out of postseason contention, the climate changes.  Suddenly they’ll want to get rid of Beltran before they get absolutely nothing for him.  The same could be said about most of the other players in the discussion.  This makes July a tricky month for Alderson.

It’s going to take some magic for the Mets to make the postseason.  Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Mets are 11 games behind the first place Phillies, and 7.5 games behind the Braves, with 4 other teams in between them.  So yeah, magic.  At the same time, the Mets had low expectations coming into the season and were only 5-13 after their first 18 games, and the lack of fans in the Citi Field seats reflected this.  Now, with a winning record at the All-Star break, there seems to be a little life in their season and therefore a modest amount of support from their self-hating fanbase.  Throwing in the towel with a winning record in July would probably lose every fan on the edge, which is where most Mets fans reside.

When Sandy Alderson took over as Mets GM he brought with him a successful track record.  From the moment he arrived, he has been tested.  The fact that the Mets are currently a winning team, have hopes of holding onto Jose Reyes and can still look ahead without losing focus on the present, suggests that Alderson hasn’t lost his touch.  Over the course of the next few weeks, the team’s play will likely dictate Alderson’s direction.  So far though, Alderson has given reason to believe that the Mets may one day wave a championship flag again, no matter how things shake out this season.

Around the Division:

Philadelphia Phillies – Reliever Jose Contreras suffered a setback while recovering from a right forearm injury and his season is now considered “in jeopardy”.  While the rumor mills claim that the Phillies have looked into the availability of Padres relievers Heath Bell, Chad Qualls and Mike Adams, the various injuries to Phillies closers this season have opened the door for Antonio Bastardo to take command of the role.  Then again, if Phillies closers continue to be the baseball version of Spinal Tap drummers, the team might want to get whatever help they can.

Atlanta Braves – Third baseman Chipper Jones and reliever Peter Moylan seem to be on track with their injury rehabs and should be back in time to help the Braves with their postseason push.  Jones (knee surgery) will begin hitting off a tee this week in hopes of returning when he’s eligible to come off the DL (July 24th).  Moylan (back surgery) is aiming to return sometime in mid-August.

Washington Nationals - Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals most effective starter this season, is on a strict 160 innings pitched limit for the year.  Zimmermann underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2009.  Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty are working on a plan to keep the 25 year-old righty involved for the rest of the season without surpassing his innings cap.

Florida Marlins – Despite rumors suggesting otherwise, Marlins GM Larry Beinfest has told reporters that he doesn’t plan on being a seller this year.  Instead it seems that the team will focus on signing starter Anibal Sanchez to an extension.  Sanchez, who is in his last arbitration-eligible year, is considered a core member of the Marlins young staff (along with Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco).

Shai Kushner is a Senior Writer for  Email Shai at:  Follow Shai on Twitter at: @BD_ShaiKushner.