Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 22, 2005
BASEBALL: BJ on the Block
As I noted below, the Mets may well be in the market for a free agent closer this offseason, and if they are, Orioles closer BJ Ryan should be at the top of their list. If you're wondering why Ryan - a stud closer in his prime, pitching for a team with deep pockets - would be on the market, the O's are apparently looking at 23-year-old rookie reliever Chris Ray as a potential closer of the future, and could either let him close in 2006 or give the job to a stopgap veteran (Ray's minor league numbers are here).
I'm not a huge fan of building through free agency generally, or of free agent closers in particular (they tend to be overpriced), and of course the Mets do have some passable internal options, notably Heath Bell. But I don't see Bell as a highly reliable closer in 2006; he looks like a guy who needs more seasoning in a setup role. And Ryan is the real deal, 30 years old next season, just hitting his stride in late 2003 and blossoming over the last two seasons. Of course, given the heavy investment in the great-now-who-knows-later Pedro, and Cliff Floyd entering the last year of his contract, the Mets are sensibly in win-now mode despite the extreme youth of some of their key players.
(The only Mets closer I ever really trusted was Randy Myers - Benitez blew too many big ones, Franco, McDowell, Orosco and Neil Allen all lived too close to the edge, and Looper, Dale Murray and Skip Lockwood were all just arsonists.)
I'd certainly much rather go after Ryan than Billy Wagner; Wagner's a wonderful pitcher, but he will be 35 in July, has had injury problems in the past, and has had a bad case of Benitez Disease in big games (7.71 career postseason ERA). And the other options aren't that appealing: Trevor Hoffman is still deadly effective, but he will be 38 next year, presumably prefers to re-sign with San Diego, and wants big bucks to leave, and Octavio Dotel may not pitch again until 2007.
A free agent closer makes more sense if the Mets are shedding some other salary this offseason (Piazza, for example, will either re-sign for less or go elsewhere, and Cameron could be dealt) and aren't pursuing other free agents. The rest of the crop is fairly slim. AJ Burnett is the prize, but other teams more desperate for starting pitching will lead the chase; Kevin Millwood is the only other starter worth looking at. Johnny Damon will inspire bidders, but the Mets have two expensive center fielders already; the surplus of outfield options will probably also keep them from chasing Hideki Matsui, Brian Giles or Milton Bradley (although Matsui would be worth it). The Mets aren't going to pursue Nomar, and presumably wouldn't sign Rafael Furcal to play 2B. Ramon Hernandez, reputedly a catching option, isn't all that impressive, and I'm not thrilled about Paul Konerko, although he'd be a major upgrade (Bryan Smith has more on the 1B market).
Oh, and: signing Ryan would keep him away from Atlanta . . . forcing them to get a 1.50 ERA and 35 saves out of some minimum-wage journeyman instead.