The Mets took some risks last off-season when they tried to address their broken bullpen. They added Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez for a combined $11.65 million, but with the exception of Rauch, the revamp was a failure. Due to Francisco’s putrid 2012 performance as closer, most Mets fans are hoping Sandy Alderson will ink or trade for a high-end replacement. But considering the Mets have so many holes–and seemingly little money, again, to spend–it simply doesn’t make sense to throw big bills at guys like Rafael Soriano or Jose Valverde. That’s why the Mets should gamble on two relievers coming off injuries and subsequent blank 2012 seasons: Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria.
Madson was almost the steal of last off-season when he signed a shockingly pip-squeak one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Even though the former-Phillie had only been a full-time closer for one season, he was still a top-notch reliever for five straight years (2.89 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 3.24 K/BB over 329.6 IP). After Madson converted thirty-two saves in 2011, the Phillies offered their homegrown bullpen ace a four-year, $44 million deal. But on the verge of finalization, the Phillies strangely pulled their offer, and instead signed Jonathan Papelbon for four years, $50 million. Without much of a remaining closer market, Madson was only able to muster a one-year flier from the Reds.
The Reds–with a bullpen headed by Ryan Madson, Sean Marshall, and Aroldis Chapman–seemed to boast the best trio of late-inning relievers in the league. But that didn’t last long. Madson went down with an elbow injury in Spring Training, and needed season-ending Tommy John surgery. Luckily for the Reds, Chapman (1.51 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 5.30 K/BB, and 38 Saves) embraced the closer’s role, thus making the decision to decline Madson’s $11 million option for 2013 a no-brainer.
Similarly, the Kansas City Royals recently cut ties with Joakim Soria, their stud closer from 2007 to 2011. Like Madson, Soria too needed season-ending Tommy John (though he opted for it later than Madson)–apparently making both he and his $8 million 2013 option expendable. Yet, it was still a contentious decision for the Royals to just part ways with Soria, who in the five seasons for the franchise, owned a dominant 2.40 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 3.92 K/BB, and 106 Saves. With Soria out of the picture, it looks as though Greg Holland (2.96 ERA vs 3.17 xFIP, 1.37 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB, and 16 Saves in 2012) and Aaron Crow (3.48 ERA vs. 3.24 xFIP, 1.17 WHIP, 2.95 K/BB, and 2 Saves in 2012) will get a crack at the closing gig in 2013.
Signing both Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria might be a difficult financial hurdle for the Mets, but it must still remain a priority. Due to arbitration raises to Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Daniel Murphy, and Bobby Parnell, as well as contractual raises to David Wright, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, and Frank Francisco, the Mets payroll will already be at around $83.5 million. Assuming the Mets match last year’s $95 million mark, the team has about $11.5 million to sign/trade for a center-fielder, left-fielder, back-up catcher, Madson, and Soria. So if Sandy Alderson wants to sign the pair, he’ll have to get creative.
Starting with Madson, Alderson could offer as much as $5 million guaranteed–but with up to $12 million in incentives. This type of contract would make sense for both sides, as Madson only made $3.5 million more last season while being at full-health, and–assuming Madson returns to form–he would instantly become the Mets best trade chip at the deadline. Speaking of the deadline, Soria is scheduled to be ready by June 2013, so he could then be eased into the role vacated by Madson. If Alderson could sign Soria to a $2.5 million base salary with up to $8 million in incentives, it would again be a prudent contract for both sides. Keep in mind that Soria was only set to make $8 million in 2013 per the Royals’ team option (which was declined), and one has to think that $2.5 million for at best four months of to-be-determined-caliber service (it could be less, after all) would be fair too. The true icing would be if Alderson could include a 2014 team-option for Soria (ala the Yankees contract with David Aardsma); let’s say between $7.5 and $10 million for 2014.
While many fans might prefer to spend that Madson/Soria money on a guy like Cody Ross, who would undoubtedly help power the middle of the Mets lineup and stabilize their outfield in the short-term, it’s important to note that signing both Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria would help the Mets long-term. Fans have to understand that the Mets simply do not have the talent nor the money necessary to compete in 2013, so the potential return for a healthy Madson at the 2013 deadline as well as Soria’s value as the 2014 closer (or perhaps 2014 deadline) outweighs anything else the Mets could attain for around $7.5 million in free agency this off-season.