It’s a buyer’s market for relief pitchers with the New York Mets being the only big-market team chasing a closer.  As the team takes its time deciding upon a course of action, I lay out the pros and cons for eight relief pitchers available this off-season.

If you asked 100 Mets fans what the main priority should be this off-season, 99 of them would say fix the bullpen.  And since Omar Minaya and company are proceeding slowly with this task, I thought I’d give a little primer on eight relievers the club either is rumored to be chasing or really ought to kick the tires on to find out what it would take.

8. Trevor Hoffman

PROS – He is a proven closer who holds the all-time saves record.  Had a down year in 2008 but still converted 88 percent of his save opportunities.  Hoffman also posted an impressive 5.11 K/BB ratio last year.  He is a free agent and the Padres did not offer him arbitration, meaning that the Mets would not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him.

CONS – He’s 41-years old and throws in the mid 80s.  He could fall off a cliff in terms of performance at virtually any time and it would not be a surprise.

7. Juan Cruz

PROS – The past two seasons his K/9 rate has been over 12 while his BB/9 have been under 3.0 both years.  As a free agent reliever who has never been a closer, his price tag should be significantly lower than other relievers.  In 110 games the past two seasons has recorded only one loss.

CONS – The Diamondbacks offered arbitration so it will cost a first-round draft pick.  Rumors are that he is not suited for a closer’s job.

6. Huston Street

PROS – The Rockies have offered to trade Street to the Mets for Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano, two players heavily associated with last year’s bullpen meltdown.  Street is a solid reliever available because of a sub-par 2008, although his numbers from last year would be an improvement on anything the Mets enjoyed last season.

CONS – Mets view him strictly as a set-up man thinking he no longer has the stuff to be a team’s primary closer.  Average fastball velocity has dropped nearly two mph from 2006 season.

5. Bobby Jenks

PROS – Has posted 111 saves the past three seasons.  He is a groundball pitcher who rarely gives up a home run.  Jenks notched a 2.63 ERA last year, the lowest mark of his four-year career.

CONS – Has lost an average of two mph off his fastball and seen his K/9 fall from 10.33 to 5.55 in two seasons.  Jenks is under contract to the White Sox and teams have been unable to agree on parameters of a trade.

4. Brian Fuentes

PROS – The only southpaw reliever of the bunch, Fuentes and his 11.78 K/9 rate would match up well against lefties Ryan Howard and Chase Utley of the Phillies.  Despite being a flyball pitcher, he had a 0.43 HR/9 ratio last season, the third time in four years his number has been below 1.0 in Colorado.

CONS – Has struggled to keep the closer’s job, losing out to Manny Corpas at one point.  Colorado offered arbitration, meaning the Mets would lose their first-round pick if they sign the 33-year old.

3. Kerry Wood

PROS – In his first season as closer, Wood recorded 34 saves and a 4.67 K/BB ratio.  His average fastball velocity of 94.8 was higher than the previous three years for which we have records.  The Cubs declined arbitration, meaning no draft pick surrendered if the Mets sign the free agent.  Wood’s FIP (a measure to determine how well a pitcher pitched without regard to his fielders) was 2.32 compared to his 3.26 ERA.

CONS – Wood is an injury risk and he logged the most innings last year since the 2004 season.  He is strictly a one-inning guy.  Last year he appeared in 65 games and pitched 66.1 innings.  His HR/FB rate in 2008 of 4.6 percent is an extremely low rate which is probably not sustainable.

2. Francisco Rodriguez

PROS – One of the elite closers in the game.  Has a ton of experience closing despite pitching last year at the age of 26.  Averaged 10.14 K/9 last season.  Has a lifetime 0.68 HR/9 mark.  Rodriguez set the single-season save mark with 62 in 2008.

CONS – Average fastball velocity dropped from 94.8 mph in 2006 to 91.9 last year.  Strikeout rates have declined four consecutive years.  Rodriguez averaged 4.48 BB/9 last year.  His FIP of 3.22 was nearly a run higher than his ERA of 2.24.  A Type A free agent offered arbitration by the Angels, the Mets will lose a first-round pick if they sign him.  Originally asked for five-year, $75 million contract but has backed off those demands.  He still will cost more money and more years than any other reliever available.

1. J.J. Putz

PROS – One of the top closers in the game in 2006 and 2007 before suffering a strained oblique and a hyperextended elbow last season.  Regained closer’s job late last year and recorded five saves and a 2.25 ERA in September.  His average fastball velocity of 95.0 mph last year led to a K/9 mark of 10.88, right in line with what he did in standout 06-07 seasons.  Putz is signed to a below-market rate $5 million contract for 2009 with a team option for $8.6 million in 2010.

CONS – He posted a 5.44 BB/9 rate last year after a 1.63 rate the year before.  There is no certainty to what the Mariners are looking for in exchange for Putz.

*****

If the Mets can acquire Putz without surrendering Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese or Fernando Martinez, I think he should be their first choice for closer.  If Seattle insists on one of those three players, Rodriguez is probably the top choice, even with those declining peripherals.  Although I would certainly be in favor of going cheap at closer if it meant signing two elite pitchers for the starting rotation.  Still, my favorite option is to move Murphy to second base, sign a power bat for left field and add one elite starter and go cheap in the bullpen.  I guess that makes me the one person out of 100 I talked about in the beginning of the article.

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