After the New York Mets got some payroll relief by trading Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers, the question is what further changes are in store for a franchise that may lose $70 million this year.
The Mets, who rid themselves of a $17.5 million option on Rodriguez’s contract for 2012, have decisions to make on the future of All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran and shortstop Jose Reyes, both of whom will be free agents after the season.
The Mets have a 46-45 record and are 11 games out of first place in the National League Eastern Division entering the second half of the campaign, which resumes today after the three-day All-Star break. New York trails Atlanta by 7 1/2 games in the race for the NL’s wildcard playoff spot.
“This doesn’t signify a change in direction from our continuing attempt to win games this season,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said of the Rodriguez trade on a media conference call yesterday. “We’re obviously in a delicate part of the season where wins and losses might dictate what we do, but I certainly wouldn’t draw any conclusions from this transaction.”
During the ninth inning of the July 12 All-Star Game, the Mets completed a trade to send cash and Rodriguez, who had 23 saves, to the Brewers for two players to be named. Rodriguez had finished 34 games this season and would vest a $17.5 million option for 2012 if he completed 55.
Rodriguez, 29, will probably pitch in eighth-inning situations ahead of closer John Axford in Milwaukee, which is tied with St. Louis for first place in the NL Central.
Bobby Parnell may take over the closer role for the Mets, who open the second half with a seven-game home stand that starts with three games against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Interest in Beltran
With baseball’s trade deadline on July 31, Alderson said the next 17 games will play a role in determining what the Mets do. The Mets have had conversations with other teams about a number of players and Alderson said there’s considerable interest in Beltran, who’s hitting .285 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 58 runs batted in.
“We have not pursued that interest to any great length at this point, rather we have been focused on our play on the field,” Alderson said. “The Rodriguez trade should not signal anything to anyone about Beltran. That will realistically be determined by how we play over the next two or three weeks.”
Alderson wouldn’t comment on how the trade of Rodriguez may affect negotiations on a new contract with Reyes, who was hitting .354 with 15 triples and 30 stolen bases when he went on the disabled list last week with a strained hamstring.
Reyes Holds Out
Reyes, who’s spent nine seasons with the Mets, has said he won’t negotiate a new deal until after the season.
“We now can look forward in 2012 to considerably more payroll flexibility and have more latitude in how we allocate our payroll,” Alderson said.
The Mets started this season with a $120 million player payroll, seventh in the major leagues, according to the Associated Press. The team needed a $25 million emergency loan from Major League Baseball in November and owner Fred Wilpon told Sports Illustrated magazine in May that it may lose $70 million this season. Wilpon also is negotiating to sell 33 percent of the team for $200 million to David Einhorn, head of Greenlight Capital Inc.
These financial maneuvers come as Wilpon and co-owner Saul Katz battle a $1 billion lawsuit by the trustee liquidating Bernard Madoff’s firm.
Rodriguez, who has 291 career saves, had a $3.5 million buyout clause that he could collect after this season and about $4.9 million remaining on his current deal for 2011. Alderson said the amount of cash the Mets sent to Milwaukee covered a “substantial portion” of that $8.4 million.
The timing of the trade was determined by weighing the current market for relievers against future availability as the trade deadline approaches, Alderson said.
“We felt it was better to do something earlier rather than later,” he said.
As for what comes next, Alderson said he’d “love to see Carlos with us as we continue this run,” yet he acknowledged that further trade talks are likely if the Mets aren’t able to pull closer to a playoff spot before the end of the month.
“It represents a little more than 10 percent of the season, but it’s a transitional period and most clubs realize it, as do fans,” Alderson said. “It gets more difficult to make up games as you get later and later in the season.”