In a pair of moves that is sure to inspire derision, the Mets signed former Blue Jays Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to revamp the back end of their bullpen. While the pair made for an underwhelming duo in Toronto, there are a more than a few reasons to like these deals for the Mets.
Judged by blown saves and bullpen blowups, Francisco may be a strange choice for closer. The sometimes blustery character once threw a chair and broke a fan’s nose, and a pair of ill-timed bad stretches have cost him the closer role in Texas and Toronto before. He’s also not the most durable fellow, having averaged a mere 48 innings per season over his seven-year career — without counting the year he missed after Tommy John surgery in 2005.
He’s managed 4.1 WAR over the last four season, or 1.5 over the last two seasons, too, so $12 million for two years could be seen as an overpay. Lastly, in the light of the team’s unwillingness to pay Jose Reyes $18 million a year for six years, it might seem like folly to spend a third of that on a closer. On a team that isn’t likely to compete in a suddenly tough division.
Despite all of that, there are reasons to like the Francisco signing.
Most of them have to do with the market. In a market that saw Jonathan Papelbon go for $50 million, it’s obvious that WAR is not always the measuring stick for closers. Speaking of Papelbon, he’s had a 10.6 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 0.6 HR/9 over the last four years. Francisco? 10.5, 3.2 and 1.0 respectively. Not the same quality, and Paps had more quantity, but Frankie Frank will cost much, much less.
It seems that if you construct a bullpen these days, you either have the fortune of having a cost-controlled young pitcher that you can use at closer, or you overpay on the free agent market. Virtually no free agent closer has been worth his money in recent years — even Kyle Farnsworth was paid $3.25 million for his 0.9 WAR, meaning he was barely a bargain. So the measuring stick can change a little. The point then becomes to get your free agent closer for fewer dollars and fewer years than your competition.
In this effort, the Mets should prove to be among the leaders. The Padres, Red Sox and a mystery team may yet sign a cheaper closer, or they may go with the cheaper home-grown pitchers already on their roster. Francisco Rodriguez and Ryan Madson aren’t likely to sign for $12 million over two years, and are in fact now rumored to be headed back to their old teams in the arbitration process. The closers that have already signed have all signed for more money. The Twins only guaranteed Matt Capps $4.5 million, but Francisco is a better pitcher… and could yet establish trade value. If two years of Matt Capps once brought a team Wilson Ramos, two years of Francisco at a decent price could establish trade value.
The last reason to like Francisco may be dubious, considering the changes that Citi Field is currently undergoing. But, at least by park factors, Francisco is moving to the best home park situation he’s ever enjoyed. He’s had an xFIP that has beaten his ERA for the past three years. He’s also shown a home run rate over one, and his HR/FB was 12.7% last year. The park factors for home runs in Texas were 119/114 for lefties and righties, and 114/116 in Toronto. In Citi last year, those numbers were 90 and 94 respectively. A year with fewer home runs would also help Francisco establish some trade value.
Much of the same could be said about Rauch. His deal is for $3.5 million and one year, he can close if Francisco goes for his annual DL stint, and he had a 1.9 HR/9 built on a 12.9% HR/FB last year. He probably won’t have any trade value, but he’s decent enough insurance on a short contract. With newcomer Ramon Ramirez in town as well, the Mets should have revamped their bullpen for about $13 million, or two million more than Papelbon’s salary in 2012.
There are reasons not to like these deals — dollars per win, Francisco’s health, Rauch’s mediocrity, the current state of the Mets — but the fact remains that Bobby Parnell has not proven he can be a cheap closer, the Mets revamped a sorry bullpen for a decent price, and they may have even acquired a piece with future trade value. And not a single one of these pitchers will be on the roster in 2014 unless the team wants them back.
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