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K-Rod 'thrilled' to officially join Mets

K-Rod 'thrilled' to officially join Mets

LAS VEGAS -- It was not long after Billy Wagner announced his intention for surgery in September that Omar Minaya's mind first drifted to the free-agent market. Many closers would be available, Minaya knew, and quite a few of them might fit with the Mets.

Trevor Hoffman was attractive, Minaya said, because he knew Hoffman could be had for a one-year deal. Brian Fuentes was an option for obvious statistical reasons. Kerry Wood had merits of his own.

"But in the end," Minaya said, "there's Mariano and then there's Frankie."

Perhaps comparisons to Mariano Rivera may be a bit premature, but Francisco Rodriguez has provided more than a flash of justification. Ever since becoming a sensation during the 2002 postseason, Rodriguez has ascended up the ranks of big league closers, last year breaking a record that has eluded even Rivera.

And now those two closers, amidst the backdrop of their similarities, will share a city. The Mets officially ensured that on Wednesday, finalizing a three-year, $37 million deal to bring Rodriguez to New York. The contract includes a $14 million vesting option for 2012.

"I'm thrilled to join the Mets," Rodriguez said in a statement, released after he passed his physical. "Mets fans are very passionate, and playing in a new ballpark is going to be great. I'm going to do everything I can to help bring a championship to Citi Field."

Rodriguez traveled to New York City and passed a routine physical on Wednesday, thus finalizing the contract to which he agreed in principle on Tuesday. He then toured Citi Field, wearing a black Mets jacket and construction hat around the premises.

The Mets plan on officially introducing him at a news conference next week.

Rodriguez, who will turn 27 next month, is coming off a season in which he set a Major League record with 62 saves. He has produced a 2.35 ERA over six full seasons and one short stint as a rookie, and has struck out significantly more than a batter per inning.

He was the class of a strong closer's market that included Fuentes, Hoffman and Wood through free agency, and J.J. Putz and Bobby Jenks via trades.

"Our goal from Day 1 was to improve the bullpen," Minaya said, "and I cannot think of a better reliever that we'd be able to sign than Francisco Rodriguez."

The Mets have needed a closer ever since Wagner, who filled the role from 2006 through last August, underwent surgery to replace a ligament in his left elbow. Relievers Aaron Heilman, Luis Ayala and others attempted with little success to replace him, undermining the Mets and forcing them to make a closer acquisition their top offseason priority.

Now, with a deal for Rodriguez sealed, those worries have all but disappeared.

"It stabilizes the back end of the game for us," Minaya said. "I think this at least will put some of the guys that we still have into the roles that they're accustomed to. Just that move in itself makes the whole bullpen much better."

In Rodriguez, the Mets have seemingly found one of the best possible solutions to their problem. Since bursting into the Majors as a rookie in 2002 and leading the Angels to a World Series title, K-Rod has been regarded as one of the game's top closers. Featuring a mid-90s fastball and a sharp-breaking slider, he has led the Majors in saves in two of the past three seasons, and already ranks 36th on the all-time list.

Rodriguez lost his arbitration case with the Angels last winter and made $10 million in 2008. His agent, Paul Kinzer, originally called for a record five-year, $75 million contract through free agency, though he backed off his demands once the closer's market soured. Of the teams searching for a closer, only the Mets have indicated that they would be willing to spend significant money to acquire one.

Part of that was due to simple economics -- the country is in a recession -- and part was due to the fact that this year's market included a glut of closers.

So instead of spending extra money to ensure that they would acquire the closer of their choice, the Mets did not budge from their monetary stance. How legitimate their interest was in other closers -- particularly Fuentes -- mattered little. His presence alone was enough to drive market prices lower.

Rodriguez's new deal, even without the vesting option, is worth $3 million more than the Angels offered him in Spring Training and $6 million less than the Mets gave Wagner before the 2006 season.

"I think it's a good deal for both sides," Minaya said.

The Mets will now turn their sights to other needs, most notably a starting pitcher. Yet consider their bullpen makeover incomplete. The Mets do not plan on breaking off talks with other free-agent relievers, and they could yet make a trade to acquire a setup man. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Mets were in talks to bring Putz to New York in a three-team swap, and Minaya has made it clear that more change is imminent.

"There are possible ways to move guys out," Minaya said. "There might be some free agents that we might dab into, so those things are possible. We're going to do the best we can to change it up a little."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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