And so with that precedent in place, it became increasingly difficult at this year's Winter Meetings to imagine the Mets signing anyone other than Francisco Rodriguez. Their need for a closer necessitated that they sign the best available. And despite the credentials of Brian Fuentes or Trevor Hoffman or Kerry Wood, K-Rod, statistically, was the best.
Now he is close to becoming a Met. The Mets are working on finalizing a three-year, $37 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth year to bring Rodriguez to New York. Multiple news outlets reported on Tuesday that the deal was already complete, though a team official said nothing will be finalized until Wednesday.
"The reason we've been looking at him is obvious," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "He's a competitor."
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.
"We've said all along that we had to address a closer," Minaya said. "We felt that this winter, there were a number of closers out there to address that."
The Mets have needed a closer since Billy Wagner, who filled the role from 2006 through last August, underwent late-season surgery to replace a ligament in his left elbow. Fellow relievers Aaron Heilman, Luis Ayala and others all attempted to replace him with little success, undermining the Mets and forcing them to make the acquisition of a closer their top offseason priority.
Now, with a deal for Rodriguez imminent, those worries have diminished.
"It's almost the same as saying Johan is pitching," manager Jerry Manuel said of being able to lean on Rodriguez. "You see a different spirit with the team. To have a guy of that sort at the end of a ballgame is very important, very critical for us."
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 league'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. Fuentes, Hoffman and Wood were all available via free agency, and several other established closers could be had in a trade.
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, would be 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.
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 could yet make a trade to acquire a setup man.
"We have to find ways to change it up a little bit, find ways to have a different look to what we do back there this year," Minaya said. "We're going to look at that through some free agents, and we're going to look at that through some trades. I don't feel that we should just tell ourselves that the only thing we need is just one guy."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.