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Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Trade raises questions about Mets' plans

By Adam Rubin

The announcement of the trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers with cash for a pair of players to be named certainly leaves plenty of questions. Sandy Alderson will fill in blanks with a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Here are some questions and partial answers:

Is this an indicator of a fire sale?

Probably not. The bottom line is that the Mets wanted out of K-Rod's contract, particularly that $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 that kicks in at 55 games finished. He was at 34, on pace for 61. Alderson's quote in the press release after the trade cited the desire for "payroll relief." Does that mean Jose Reyes is a Met in 2012? That's hardly assured. But at least it keeps the Mets in the game.

What's the nitty-gritty of the deal?

The Mets will get two players to be named later, typically minor leaguers, and oftentimes not very prominent ones. The Mets are eating money in the deal. The Post reports that sum is $5 million. That would go toward K-Rod's $3.5 million buyout, which is owed if his contract does not vest, plus part of his $11.5  million salary for this season. Interestingly, Tom Haudricourt, the fine Brewers writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, believes there's no way Milwaukee can let the contract vest at $17.5 million, either. The Brewers may use John Axford more as the closer to ensure K-Rod doesn't hit the vesting trigger. That may create some discontent in Milwaukee's clubhouse, but that's the Brewers' problem now. Incidentally, Foxsports.com reports the Brewers were not on K-Rod's 10-team no-trade list.

Why now?

The timing was not completely foreseen, since Alderson said before the series finale at Dodger Stadium that he would give 10 to 12 games for the season to play out before considering dismantling. What changed? Well, the Mets did go 1-3 after that pronouncement. And perhaps the Mets could just not let K-Rod get any closer to 55 and still find anyone to take him. But the major difference since Alderson's statement is that K-Rod has since officially hired Scott Boras as his agent. And Boras immediately stated K-Rod would block a trade -- if the no-trade allowed -- to a team that would make him a set-up man. Maybe Alderson had an opportunity to get rid of K-Rod now and struck while the opportunity existed sensing that was going to become an issue.

Who closes for the Mets?

It will have to be Bobby Parnell and Jason Isringhausen (293 career saves) for now, with potentially an occasional Tim Byrdak if lefties are lined up for the opponent in the ninth. Of course, Isringhausen is a trade candidate too if the Mets further fade.

What does this mean for Carlos Beltran, etc.?

Well, if you accept that this is not a white flag, and that the impetus was assured salary relief with K-Rod before it was too late with the vesting option, then maybe nothing until closer to July 31. If the Mets make a run -- and quickly -- perhaps things stay together. More likely, Carlos Beltran gets moved somewhere in the next 19 days. Beltran also is represented by Boras and has a full no-trade clause. But Beltran has indicated he would be willing to go to any playoff-caliber team. And Beltran and Boras did use a trade from the Royals to Astros in 2004 to set up a monster postseason that included eight homers in 12 games and resulted in the seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets.

Did K-Rod change since last year's incident with his girlfriend's father?

Yes. At least as far as demeanor in the clubhouse. He definitely appeared more sedate and controlled, and it's hard to recall an instance in which he was excitable off the field while reporters had access. That's a far cry from pre-anger management, when K-Rod not only had the family incident at Citi Field that resulted in criminal charges, but also had run-ins with then-Yankee Brian Bruney during batting practice, with then-Mets executive Tony Bernazard on a bus after a game in Atlanta, and with bullpen coach Randy Niemann.

How does Terry Collins maintain belief in the clubhouse after this deal?

Good question. I asked Terry Collins on Sunday in San Francisco -- thinking more about Beltran at the time -- what type of challenge it would be to manage a dismantling team. 

"Part of my job is to make sure they maintain focus," Collins said. "If someone is moved from this club who is a high-profile guy, my job is to make sure they understand that there's a business side of this game that you've got to be able to play through. As we didn't let some earlier distractions early in the year get in our way, we cannot let this distraction get in our way. Here's an opportunity for somebody else to step up. And I truly believe as a player all you can do is grasp the opportunities. No matter who it might be, it's going to be an opportunity for some young player to step up and say, 'Hey, look, here's my chance to show I belong here.'"

Who replaces K-Rod on the roster?

Well, we have until Friday for that. Newly signed Miguel Batista probably makes the most sense. Ryota Igarashi is sitting at Triple-A. So is Dale Thayer. The list also includes Pat Misch and Mike O'Connor.

What were scouts saying about K-Rod?

Honestly, not overly impressed. Yes, he most of the time managed to get the job done. But declining fastball velocity made him more reliant on a changeup. He is far from an elite closer anymore.