Uncertainty surrounds Putz's status

Uncertainty surrounds Putz's status

NEW YORK -- Part of the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the Mets' offseason involves J.J. Putz's elbow and contract status.

The Mets have provided no indication of their course of action involving the reliever who was to have been the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez, and, though he has suspicions, Putz essentially is floating without a compass some four months after undergoing surgery on his right elbow.

Whatever uncertainty is in his mind involves only his contract status. His physical status is not an issue, Putz said. And as unsettled as his contract status is, it hardly confounds him.

"It's out of my hands," Putz said.

And so, to a large degree, it is out of his mind as well.

Putz and the medical people who have repaired him and consulted him regarding his elbow are fully encouraged by how he has recovered from the June 9 procedure that removed a bone spur from the elbow and a significant obstacle from his career path. And the minor tear in the medial collateral ligament detected in late August isn't expected to cause a problem.

"Neither doctor thought it would be an issue," Putz said Wednesday by telephone from his Arizona home.

David Altchek, the Mets' primary physician, performed the surgery, and Lewis Yocum, the noted sports surgeon who works with the Angels, consulted.

"But after Yocum looked at the pictures, he didn't think it was necessary to examine me," Putz said. "That was another good sign."

The Mets, of course, have monitored Putz's progress. They have decisions to make, including whether to exercise their option on his contract and, if they don't, whether to pursue him as a free agent. If they decline to exercise the option, which is quite likely, he can file for free agency and become available to all clubs.

"I'll just wait to see how it hits me when [the Mets] decide," Putz said. "I guess I'd be open to pretty much anything. I liked being there. I enjoyed the guys, not the season."

The three-year, $13.1 million contract Putz signed with the Mariners in January 2007 obligates the Mets to pay him $8.6 million for the 2010 season or buy out the contract for $1 million. The club has until 10 days after the end of the World Series to act.

Even before Putz felt the first twinges in his elbow, questions about the Mets' plans for 2010 developed. Indeed, questions developed the December day the club acquired him in the three-team trade with the Indians and Mariners. The Mets weren't uncomfortable paying him $5 million to set up K-Rod in '09. They thought they might have the most dominating eighth-and-ninth-inning tandem in the National League.

But before Putz threw a pitch in Spring Training -- or the World Baseball Classic -- the idea of playing $8.6 million for a setup man in 2010 prompted a squirm or two.

Now the elbow is a factor in the Mets' thinking. Putz is to begin throwing Dec. 1, "as I always do," he said. And the doctors anticipate he will be ready for Spring Training -- somewhere. "Without a doubt, I'll be pitching next year," Putz said. "The elbow won't be an issue."

Putz, who turns 33 in February, had provided the Mets what they wanted until his stuff and availability were compromised by his elbow, and that scenario began weeks before the surgery. His first 20 appearances produced a save, a victory, a loss and a blown save in the same game, another loss and eight holds. He completed his first NL season with a 1-4 record, two saves, two blown saves, 10 holds and a 5.22 ERA. His ERA increased by 2.01 in his final three appearances (seven earned runs in 1 1/3 innings).

He made his final appearance in Pittsburgh on June 4 and spent the rest of the summer rehabbing -- not throwing -- and watching every Mets game. Each game was a challenge. He said the prescribed exercises "were not very easy." And the viewing was ... well, "amusing to the point of ... you couldn't believe how many things went wrong, things that were so far-fetched. It was like Hollywood wrote a script you'd never accept as real.

"A game-ending triple play? C'mon!

"It can't be that way two years in a row. Right?"

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