With the 2011 season over, the old saying, “There’s always next season,” instantly becomes all Mets fan’s credo. But before we can think about riding the 7-train out to Flushing again, there is a whole off-season to project and pontificate about. Considering the amount of holes the Mets will have, this coming off-season holds a lot of importance.
In this new on-going series, Rising Apple will analyze potential off-season targets for the New York Mets. Today’s target at-hand is soon to be free agent reliever: Jonathan Broxton.
It’s no secret that once the Mets traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers during the All Star Game, they struggled finding someone to insert into the closer role. Jason Isringhausen got the bulk of the work when pursuing his 300th save, but faltered at times before handing the job to Bobby Parnell, who saved six games while blowing four down the stretch of the season. Manny Acosta did a decent job in limited work, but Sandy Alderson has admitted that the team might have to look outside the organization in order to fill the void. While there are some big names out there, such as Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell, these players would cost big money and draft picks. Instead, the front office would be wise to look towards a cheaper alternative, and Broxton fits the bill.
Broxton was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the 2002 draft. He made his Major League debut in 2005, appearing in 14 games, all in relief. From 2006-8, he served primarily in a middle and late relief role, accumulating a 2.85 ERA, 1.183 WHIP, 11.2 K/9 and 3.34 K/BB. In July of 2008, he took over the closer role from Takashi Saito, who was placed on the disabled list. From July 18, the day he recorded his first save of the year, until the end of the season, Broxton posted a 2.76 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 29.1 innings, saving 14 games and blowing three.
Serving as the full time closer in 2009, Broxton put together a stellar season. In 76 innings, Broxton posted a 2.61 ERA (2.02 xFIP, 1.89 SIERA), 0.961 WHIP, 13.5 K/9 and 3.93 K/BB, while saving 36 games in 42 chances. Following up on his success, Broxton avoided arbitration with the Dodgers and signed a two year, $11 million contract. The righty picked up right where he left off in the first half of 2010, allowing just nine earned runs on 34 hits and seven walks over 38.1 innings while striking out 55 prior to the All Star Game. However, he struggled mightily in the second half, surrendering 19 earned runs on 30 hits and 21 walks while fanning just 18 over 24 innings, leading to Broxton being removed from the closer role.
Broxton began the 2011 season as the team’s closer, but again struggled, yielding eight earned runs on 15 hits and nine walks while striking out 10 over 12.2 innings. Eventually, he was placed on the disabled list and didn’t pitch for the Dodgers again after May 3rd. Set to be a free agent for the first time, the 27 year old Broxton recently underwent successful elbow surgery and should be ready for the start of spring training. So why should the Mets take a chance on a pitcher who has recently struggled and undergone surgery?
For starters, given that he hasn’t pitched well as of late and his injury history, Broxton projects as an affordable signing. Alderson signed a couple of similar players last offseason to incentive-laden contracts (Chris Young and Chris Capuano), so inking Broxton to a similar contract would make sense (he also wouldn’t cost any draft picks, in all likelihood). From Broxton’s point of view, he will need a year to rebuild his value, and if he can do so with a one year deal, he could cash in next offseason given that he will only be 28. Furthermore, the Dodgers seem content with Javy Guerra as their new closer, making it unlikely that Broxton would re-sign with his former mates.
The keys for Broxton (and the Mets) will be his velocity and control. During his 2009 season, Broxton averaged 97.8 mph on his heater, which was worth 1.45 runs above average per 100 pitches. His average fastball velocity dipped to 95.3 mph in 2010 and to 94.1 mph in 2011, but those drops could be attributed to his elbow problems. Furthermore, Broxton still had a very successful 2007 season when his heater clocked in at 95.2 mph and was worth a still respectable 0.69 runs above average per 100 pitches. Pairing a mid-90s fastball with a solid slider and the occasional changeup should still be enough for Broxton to close.
In addition to still throwing the ball hard, Broxton will have to keep the walks in check. From 2006-09, he had a walk rate of 3.4, which isn’t great but is OK when you’re also posting a K/9 of 11.8. From 2010-11, his BB/9 jumped to 4.4, which is too high. Keeping the ball in the strikezone will be imperative for Broxton’s success.
It’s true, that Broxton hasn’t pitched well since the middle of 2010, but if his problems were due to injuries, the righty could very well fill the Mets void at closer. Odds are, he’ll cost somewhere in the 1-2 million dollar range with incentives, a figure that should fit the team’s budget. The team could then let him walk following the season or trade him mid-year, and continue plans to develop a closer from within.