03.23.05

Mets Covet Urbina

Posted in Baseball at 1:41 am by

You don’t need to be Kimberly (or even Buddy) Bell to tell that the New York Mets will have difficulty handing a lead over to Braden Looper unless something dramatic is done to improve their middle relief corps. Hence this morning’s report from Newsday’s David Lennon about a possible move for an established, albiet pricey, pitching addition.

The Mets have told the Tigers not to trade reliever Ugueth Urbina without checking with them first, a person familiar with the situation said yesterday. But the Mets could face serious competition from the Cubs, who are now in the market for a closer after learning yesterday that Joe Borowski will be lost for a minimum of six weeks because of a broken right arm.

The Mets and Tigers already have discussed Urbina, but Detroit officials are split on whether to deal him, and the Mets do not appear desperate enough to meet their demands just yet. The Tigers have suggested they want a major-league player or top prospect in any swap, and they are reluctant to pay a portion of Urbina’s $4-million salary for the coming season.

The Mets are more willing to do a cash-heavy swap than surrender any significant players at this point, and with the Tigers in the market for a starting pitcher, it might be difficult for the two sides to find a match.

Urbina was demoted to a set-up role when Detroit signed Troy Percival this offseason. But with 227 saves on his resume, and a fastball clocked at 94 mph in his last outing, Urbina still has top closer credentials and would be a welcome upgrade for the Mets’ lackluster bullpen.

Even Looper has been ragged, with a 7.50 ERA, and opposing teams have batted .387 (12-for-31) against him over his six innings of spring-training work. Two years ago, when Urbina was acquired at midseason by the Marlins, he replaced Looper as the closer on a Florida team that beat the Yankees in the World Series.

When Urbina’s name was discussed last month, Looper said he had no problem with the Mets pursuing him, and would welcome his former teammate, despite the role reversal on the Marlins in 2003. As for the Mets, one team official said they would like the competition it would create in the bullpen. And with Looper in the final season of his two-year, $6.75-million contract, the Mets have little concern for any long-term ramifications if Urbina did wind up the closer.

The Tigers are unsure if Urbina will be content in his current role, but he has pitched well so far, striking out four in six innings with a 1.50 ERA. Given the club’s depth in the bullpen, it appears Urbina will eventually be dealt, and Detroit has the luxury of waiting for the right package. With the Cubs now likely to be in the mix, Urbina’s price will only go up, and the Mets are still deciding if they should ante up for him.

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