How will the Mets handle Francisco Rodriguez this season?

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We’re probably getting a little bit ahead of ourselves with this topic, but it’s a worthwhile discussion on a slow news day.

The Mets will get plenty of payroll relief when Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo come off the books after this season, but the status of Francisco Rodriguez could be much trickier. His $17.5 million option for 2012 will vest if he finishes just 55 games in 2011.

While last season was the first time since 2005 that Rodriguez didn’t finish 55 games, he almost certainly would have gotten there if it wasn’t for the incident with his father-in-law and subsequent season-ending thumb surgery. With a 2.20 ERA and his best strikeout rate since 2007, K-Rod was pitching quite well at the time. He was at 46 games finished when he played his last game on August 14.

The union filed a grievance against the Mets after they placed Rodriguez on the disqualified list without pay. The two sides eventually reached a settlement where the Mets were allowed to keep the $3.14 million they would have otherwise paid him for the rest of the season. The Mets originally saw his thumb injury as an opportunity to void his entire contract, so I can’t help but view their efforts in a new light given what we’ve learned about the Wilpons in the past week.

I’m not sure if Rodriguez’s contract situation will affect the way the Mets use him this season, but Sandy Alderson doesn’t seem like the type of general manager who would want a $17.5 million closer on his payroll in the first place. This could open the door for the Mets to possibly use him in unconventional ways, perhaps as a “relief ace,” as opposed to your atypical closer, but they will have to be careful. With the Mets on shaky financial ground, you can bet that the MLBPA will be on the lookout for any funny business.

Phillies, Red Sox interested in Carlos Santana

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The Phillies and Red Sox appear intent on pursuing free agent first baseman Carlos Santana, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports. Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Indians on Thursday and is expected to draw widespread interest on the market this winter. The Mets, Mariners, Angels and Indians could make a play for the infielder, though no serious offers have been made this early in the offseason.

Santana, 31, is coming off of a seven-year track with the Indians. He batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 3.0 fWAR last season, making 2017 the fourth-most valuable year of his career to date. Although he was primarily stationed at first base over the last year, he could step back into a hybrid first base/DH role with the Red Sox, who are hurting for infield depth with Hanley Ramirez still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

As for Santana’s other suitors, the Mariners are far less likely to pursue a deal after trading for Ryon Healy last Wednesday. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies have a DH spot to offer the veteran infielder, and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins appears to be blocking the way at first base. Then again, Santana may not find a more enticing offer outside of Cleveland, where Edwin Encarnacion might otherwise be the club’s best option at first base. During the GM meetings, Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff said he “love to have both [Santana and Jay Bruce] back” in 2018, but hasn’t backed up that love with any contract talks just yet.