By Ed Coleman
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It didn’t take long.
After enduring heavy criticism for letting Jose Reyes escape, the Mets moved swiftly and decisively on Tuesday night to shore up their biggest offseason need — reshaping their bullpen.
They signed two free agent relievers: Jon Rauch to be a setup man for the new closer Frank Francisco. Both were with Toronto last season, and Rauch set up Francisco for the most part with the Blue Jays in 2011. In addition, the Mets pulled off a trade with the San Francisco Giants, sending Angel Pagan out west for new leadoff hitter and center fielder Andres Torres while also getting righty reliever Ramon Ramirez to further fortify the pen.
So how did this all come about? Well, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Heath Bell and Jonathan Broxton were already off the closer board — all but Broxton probably beyond the Mets’ financial capabilities anyway. The Mets liked Matt Capps to a point, but with Nathan gone to Texas, the Twins liked him more and elected to re-sign him and keep him in Minnesota.
The key move of the day for the Mets was the somewhat surprising trade of young White Sox closer Sergio Santos to Toronto. Santos racked up 30 saves while notching a whopping 13 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. Nice numbers. Also, Santos’ contract is extremely advantageous to the Blue Jays — a reasonable $8.25 million for 3 years, and the contract comes with 3 option years. That allowed the Mets to jump on Rauch and then follow up with Francisco.
The 33-year-old Rauch is an imposing figure at 6′-10″ and he was given a 1-year, $3.5 million deal plus incentives. Rauch went 5-4 with a 4.85 ERA in 53 games for Toronto last season, saving 11 games in 16 chances. He had 21 saves for Minnesota in 2010. He will set up Francisco and close for him when Francisco is unavailable.
Francisco was signed to a 2-year, $12 million deal. He was 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA and 17 saves in 54 appearances for the Blue Jays last year. He struck out 9 1/2 batters per 9 innings pitched in 2011 – which was his lowest total over the last 4 years. Francisco’s best season came in 2009 when he saved 25 games for Texas.
As for the Mets-Giants trade, it quite possibly could be traced back to the trading deadline last July.
Several sources told me at that time that the two clubs had talked about expanding the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler deal to include a swap of the underachieving center fielders as part of the package. It didn’t work out then, but it may have worked out better for the Mets this way because they garner another usable and capable bullpen arm in Ramirez.
Torres is an interesting story. He’ll be 34 in January, is an above average defensive center fielder, and has lots of family in New York and New Jersey. Both he and Pagan were candidates to be non-tendered this off-season — Torres hit a measly .221 with just 4 HR and 19 RBI — and the Mets can control him for 2 more years. Torres is arbitration-eligible and will probably make about $2.5 million in 2012. He’s mostly been a career minor-leaguer who broke in with the Tigers back in 2002. He was with Detroit for 3 years before going to Texas in 2005. Torres then disappeared until 2009 when he played sparingly with San Francisco.
But in 2010 — when the Giants won the World Series — he had a breakthrough career season and became a huge fan favorite. Torres batted .268 with 16 HR and 63 RBI, along with 43 doubles and 26 stolen bases. Both teams are hoping that a change of scenery will help Torres and Pagan return to their 2010 form.
As for Ramirez, he has a great slider which helped him to a 3-3 mark and 2.62 ERA in 66 appearances for the Giants last year. And he provides further depth to the end-of-game tableau that the Mets sorely need to improve.
So what’s next? The Mets probably have about $5-6 million, maybe a little more, to spend on a utility infielder (like Jack Wilson) and two backup outfielders.
The backup catching situation may have to be solved from within. But after Reyes’ departure, they helped themselves considerably on Tuesday night.
C U soon
Mets fans: What do you think of the move? Let us know in the comments below…