Mets acquire Putz to set up K-Rod
Heilman, Smith, Chavez, Carp dealt in three-team trade
LAS VEGAS -- Whatever celebration followed the Mets' signing of Francisco Rodriguez had already subsided by early Wednesday afternoon. General manager Omar Minaya was in his Bellagio suite, in fact, preparing to speak about his acquisition when the phone rang. He spoke softly into the receiver, hung up, then disappeared into a back room.
When he and his aides emerged from that suite roughly five hours later, they did so with three new players in their employ. The Mets announced soon after that they had acquired J.J. Putz in a 12-player deal with the Mariners and Indians, sending relievers Aaron Heilman and Joe Smith, outfielder Endy Chavez and four prospects out of New York in exchange for Putz, outfielder Jeremy Reed and right-handed reliever Sean Green.
"All I kept hearing in the streets of New York when you go to get bagels in the morning was, 'Please address the bullpen,'" Minaya said. "Well, to you Mets fans, we've addressed the bullpen by getting Mr. Putz."
Putz will serve as the setup man to Rodriguez, inserting two of the league's top relievers into the back end of Minaya's bullpen. Putz, 31, has served as the Mariners' closer for each of the past three seasons, saving 91 games over that run.
"It's not the ideal situation, but having the two of us at the back of the bullpen will be pretty strong," Putz said in a telephone interview on Wednesday night. "I will not change my approach at all. I will close the game in the eighth and give the ball to Frankie."
Putz battled injuries for most of last season, spending time on the disabled list with a rib-cage injury and a hyperextended right elbow. He also tore a fingernail on the middle finger of his pitching hand, and -- partially by consequence -- converted merely 15 saves in 23 chances.
Still, he is just a season removed from earning the American League's Fireman of the Year Award in 2007, converting his first 27 save chances and 40 of 42 overall. Instead of closing with the Mets, Putz will step into the setup role once occupied by Heilman.
Minaya said he spoke with Putz earlier on Wednesday, and didn't foresee him having a problem assuming a role as a setup reliever.
"It's about winning championships," Minaya said. "To win a ring, you've got to sacrifice yourself. If you look at teams that win championships, they have closers and they have setup guys. But a lot of times the setup guys can be closers."
"The Mets organization is built to win right now and that's new for me," Putz said. "We will have a very strong ballclub. It will be fun."
The deal falls in line with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon's strategy of "addition by subtraction," which he has publicly advocated twice already this offseason. Heilman blew five saves last year, becoming a consistent contributor to the Mets' bullpen woes and something of a villain to Shea Stadium fans. Drafted as a starter in 2001, Heilman approached Minaya earlier this offseason requesting to be reinserted into that role -- either for the Mets or for another team.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said he was unsure whether or not Heilman would enter his team's rotation or its bullpen.
In addition to Putz, the Mets added Green, 29, to their relief corps, cushioning the loss of Smith. Green, like Smith, has proven to be a vastly better pitcher against right-handed batters, and he could step into a late-inning role with the Mets. Green excelled during the first half of 2008, before posting an 8.65 ERA in 24 games after the All-Star break. He has made a combined 136 appearances for the Mariners over the past two seasons.
Reed, 27, is a former top prospect who hasn't hit with any consistency in the big leagues since batting .397 over 58 at-bats in his rookie season. Once the Mariners' starting center fielder, Reed spent much of last season at Triple-A Tacoma, producing a .269 average in 97 games with Seattle.
The Mets also sent Minor League first baseman Mike Carp, right-handed pitcher Maikel Cleto, outfielder Ezequiel Carrera and left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas to the Mariners in the deal. The Indians completed the trade by swapping outfielder Franklin Gutierrez with the Mariners for Minor League infielder Luis Valbuena.
"We gave up a lot of players," Minaya said. "But we have so much confidence in our scouting and international scouting. We touched all the areas in our organization."
That included dealing away two players, Smith and Chavez, who were favorites at Shea Stadium. Smith was one of the steadier Mets relievers last season, ranking second on the team with 82 appearances. And Chavez proved adept as a fourth outfielder, endearing himself to Mets fans after making a game-saving catch in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series.
The move ensures that the Mets will enter 2009 with a markedly different bullpen than the one that undermined them for much of last season. They officially made their first offseason splash Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, finalizing a three-year, $37 million deal with Rodriguez.
Shortly thereafter, Zduriencik called Minaya to talk about the Putz trade, and talks with the Mariners and Indians intensified in the ensuing hours. The three clubs jointly announced their trade at 12:30 a.m. ET Thursday, giving the newest Met a new bullpen mate.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.