The New York Mets traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers last night, avoiding the expensive option in the pitcher's contract with the team.
Rodriguez's option for 2012 would have kicked in had he closed 55 games this season for the Mets, and doctors cleared him at the end of the season. The Mets would have been on the hook for a $3.5 million termination buyout (versus $17.5 million salary for 2012) if the team opted to release him in 2012. Trading him before his option kicks in saved the financially strapped franchise millions, and while Pedro Beato and Bobby Parnell aren't intimidating options to replace him, the Mets have reasonable substitutes for K-Rod.
Milwaukee can avoid the option by using Rodriguez as a setup man for closer John Axford, who has been performing well for the Brewers. Rodriguez, who is not known for having an amiable personality, will likely chafe at this situation, and Axford is going to feel a lot of pressure from behind him. This is not the Mets' problem to deal with, however.
The rumor mill also has veteran setup man Jason Isringhausen on the Mets' auction block. If the K-Rod deal is an indication of the thinking in the Mets' front office, they won't be dealing for cheaper relief pitchers, but rather young prospects who can help the team rebuild. There's a real risk of some heartbreaking bullpen collapses coming the Mets' way if Isringhausen goes, too.
Rodriguez was sent to Milwaukee along with cash in exchange for two players to be named later. The Brewers' farm system is fairly empty of top prospects, however. This trade was about getting out from under K-Rod's historic contract. (His $17.5 salary next season would be the highest for a closer in MLB history.)
The next piece to be traded by the Mets is likely to be right fielder Carlos Beltran. This is the last year in his expensive (7-year, $119 million) contract, and his bat is on fire (.880 OPS, NL-leading 28 doubles). The Mets would have no problem finding a suitor for his contract, even though they would just be renting him for a couple of months before he becomes a free agent.
The Mets have no one in their farm system or on the roster who could generate offense even remotely comparable to Beltran's production, and his departure would almost assuredly be a white flag, surrendering the season.
New York is 11 games back in the National League East and 7 1/2 games back in the NL wild card race behind Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Arizona and Pittsburgh. They do, however expect David Wright, Johan Santana and Ike Davis to return to the Mets lineup, probably in that order. But by the time that talented trio rejoins the club the team may be too far back in the standings to benefit from the bump their returns will yield.
UPDATE: ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the Mets shopped Rodriguez around and Milwaukee asked for the least amount of money in exchange for taking on K-Rod's contract.