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mets countdown

Mets Countdown: No. 9, Francisco Rodriguez

The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Mets players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 9, closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The story with Francisco Rodriguez this spring: his eyes. He missed the beginning part of spring training with pinkeye — ew — and now he is wearing his cool prescription wraparound glasses, the ones he made famous while pitching for the Anaheim Angels. K-Rod will be fun to look at this year, as long as you do your best to forget he ever had pinkeye.

On a lot of teams, Rodriguez would be a higher element of concern this season: His strikeout rate is way down, he's lost a couple miles per hour on his fastball, his breaking ball isn't nearly the backbreaker it was a few years ago, and he's walking more guys. All areas to be worried about, particularly considering the Mets will be paying him $24.6 million over the next two years.

But honestly? When you look at the question marks of the 2010 New York Mets, "closer" is rather low on the list. (More pressing at the moment: Is there anyone in the bullpen who can actually make it to K-Rod?) Rodriguez isn't the dominant, record-setting closer he was a couple of years ago — though sabermetricians argue his 62-save 2008 season was more a benefit of circumstance than dominance — but he's still an above-average pitcher, and closer. Most teams would be happy to have him, even in decline. If he's the Mets' worst problem, they're fine. But he is far from their worst problem.

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Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images