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In Rod We Trust

Mets fans are a picky lot. Given a clear shot to sign the guy with the most saves ever in one season, that season being the most recent season, I haven’t seen a lot of “Oh Boy!” enthusiasm for that guy’s arrival. But he is arriving, crazy arm angles, dropping velocity and all. Reliable sources are reporting [1] Francisco Rodriguez is our new closer, ye olde physical pending. K-Rod is coming for three seasons at a cost of $37 million plus incentives. I’m trying to think how much incentive one needs on top of $37 million over three years, but if they make him pitch better, then okey-doke.

After attempting to convince myself [2] Sunday that I didn’t especially want K-Rod, I’m kind of glad he’s here. He won’t be the definitive bullpen or overall 2009 answer unto himself, but short of an indelible period at the end of a sentence, he’s the best punctuation with which we could hope to halt the opposition in our next flight of final innings.

This whole cult of the closer thing doesn’t sit right with me, but that’s the way baseball is these days. I was pretty happy for those ten or so minutes between the demise of Wagner and the elevation of Ayala last August when Jerry mixed and matched [3] and we were doing all right. That’s apparently not a viable long-term strategy. So we may as well go with the guy who’s had the most success and isn’t too old and hasn’t yet been hurt. At this juncture three years ago [4], save for age and injury history, that was Billy Wagner. He worked out for the most part. He did make me nervous, I won’t deny it. But they all make me nervous. Looper had that one really good year and he made me nervous. I had more patience for Armando longer than most Mets fans and he made me nervous. Full medicine cabinets of Xanax were devoured during the Franco era, and he was pretty decent.

It comes with the territory. K-Rod will blow up at some point. Wagner did. Looper did. Benitez did. Johnny did. You could rationalize their misfires as isolated, and it would be fair. But you couldn’t rationalize away what was in your gut. The last closer who didn’t make me nervous over the long haul as a rule was Randy Myers, and his haul wasn’t all that long. Thinking about Randall K. makes me wonder why we can’t grow and groom our own closer. My impulse [5] was to go for Billy in ’05 just as it’s been to go for somebody with a name in ’08, but what if we had focused Heilman on that role after his successful conversion to the pen back then? It almost seems like twitchy cheating to constantly throw money at the problem. The money (except for the end of 2008 and all of 2009) wasn’t ill-spent on Billy Wagner, but why is that always the answer? Would the roof cave in if Closer X got the job coming out of Spring Training and made his way, absorbing the bumps, the bruises and the boos until they became less frequent?

In New York, for the Mets, with us, probably. Too bad.

Welcome Mr. Rodriguez. You’re one of the best if not the best. Don’t take it personally if our acid starts churning…now.