Updated 10/27 10:00 PM
According to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, Hisanori Takahashi has switched agents from Ed and Peter Greenberg to Arn Tellem. Tellem represents several Japanese players, including Hideki Matsui.
As Ed mentioned below, the Mets have until October 31st, four days, to sign Takahashi to an extension, at which point he can become a free agent and will not be able to re-sign with the Mets until May 15th of next season. – JD
Original Post 10/23 9:00 PM
In February, the Mets signed Hisanori Takahashi to a one-year minor league deal, not expecting much from the 35-year-old left-hander from Japan. However, Takahashi made the team out of spring training and was a strikeout machine coming out of the bullpen over the first month and a half of the season.
In his first 15 appearances, all in relief, Takahashi struck out 33 batters in 26 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .234 batting average. During one stretch from April 13 to May 8, the lefty was practically unhittable, punching out 27 batters in 17.1 innings. He also picked up three victories against no defeats in that lights-out stretch.
After pleasantly surprising the team with his impressive performances out of the bullpen, injuries to starting pitchers led to the insertion of Takahashi into the rotation. His unexpected run of success continued in his first two starts, as he held the high-octane Yankees and Phillies’ lineups scoreless through a combined 12 innings of work. Unfortunately, Takahashi came crashing down to Earth in this third start, giving up six runs and eight hits in four innings of work against offensively-challenged San Diego in an eventual 18-6 thrashing by the Padres.
Takahashi remained in the rotation until July, making nine more up-and-down starts, before returning to the bullpen in early August. After Francisco Rodriguez made his unsuccessful boxing debut on August 11, Takahashi became the Mets’ closer, where he once again became dominant. In 20 appearances after the disqualification of Frankie Knuckles, Takahashi went 3-0 with 8 saves (no blown saves). His ERA was a microscopic 0.81 and opposing batters hit .200 against him.
Although Takahashi had always said that he preferred to be a starting pitcher, Ken Davidoff of Newsday reported that Takahashi would accept staying in the bullpen.
There is no question that the Mets could use Takahashi as one of their primary relievers and occasional spot starter. although looking at his splits, Takahashi would serve the Mets far better as a reliever (6-2, 2.04 ERA, .206 batting average against) than as a starter (4-4, 5.01 ERA, .291 batting average against). The only question is whether the Mets can sign him in time.
In today’s New York Times, David Waldstein reported that Takahashi can become a free agent after October 31, due to a clause in the contract he signed with the Mets in February. Because Takahashi could not get any team to offer him a major league deal last winter, he agreed to sign a minor league contract with the Mets, but only if he could be released by October 31 so that he could explore signing with other teams.
According to a rule regarding major league contracts [Rule 8 (i)(2)], if a player is released between midnight on August 31 and the start of the following season, that player cannot sign another major league contract with the team that released him until May 15 of the following season.
Since Takahashi’s contract would call for his release by next Sunday, the Mets would have to sign him by then or not be allowed to sign him again until May 15, 2011, meaning that Takahashi would surely go to another team.
Although negotiations with Takahashi and his agent, Peter Greenberg, have been ongoing, there is still no indication as to whether or not the Mets will be able to sign him on time, especially since the Mets still do not have a general manager in place. Greenberg had this to say when asked how far the talks regarding his client’s contract status had progressed.
“We have been talking. Hisa loved his time in New York, and hopefully, something can be worked out. If not, then he will have to look elsewhere.”
With the Mets still searching for a general manager to replace the departed Omar Minaya, assistant GM John Ricco has been in charge of negotiating with Takahashi and his agent. However, who’s to say if potential GM candidates Sandy Alderson or Josh Byrnes would agree to having Takahashi on the 2011 Mets? Therein lies the problem of having such a short window of time to negotiate with Takahashi when the Mets still don’t have a permanent GM in place to make these decisions.
Personally, I think the Mets would be fools to not re-sign Takahashi. He became the first Mets pitcher in the 21st century to win 10 games in his first season in the major leagues (Jae Seo won nine games for the 2003 Mets in his first year in the majors) and he was a valuable contributor to a bullpen that needed another quality left-hander to complement Pedro Feliciano. Plus, with Pedro Feliciano becoming a free agent and teams already expressing interest in his services, the Mets might have to prepare for life without Perpetual Pedro, who for the third consecutive season led the league in appearances (breaking his own franchise record with 92 appearances in 2010).
The Mets have one week to sign Hisanori Takahashi. If they don’t. they will surely lose him to another team, perhaps one of their main rivals. The new general manager will have plenty of items on his plate once he takes over the team, including finding a new manager and trying to acquire a quality starting pitcher, especially with the uncertain status of Johan Santana. If the Mets pass on their opportunity to sign Takahashi…well, let’s just say that the GM’s plate will be overflowing. The Mets need plenty of help this off-season. Finding a pitcher to replace one of the pleasant bright spots of 2010 shouldn’t be one of them.