The day he was traded to the New York Mets, J.J. Putz lost his job before throwing a pitch, saw his wife cry over leaving Seattle and was asked by the media whether he thought he should be closing instead of Francisco Rodriguez.
Welcome to New York, Mr. Putz.
Caught in a restructuring phase, Putz was one of the few Mariners new general manager Jack Zduriencik could trade and get back what he wanted. So off went Putz, the man with 101 saves in Seattle.
And he was acquired not to pitch the ninth inning in New York, but to work the eighth, setting up Rodriguez.
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“This year is about winning a ring, and I’ll do anything I can to help us do that,” Putz said.
He was not alone in the offseason turnover in Seattle. Gone, too, are Raul Ibañez, Jeremy Reed, Sean Green, Willie Bloomquist, Miguel Cairo, Jake Woods, Luis Valbuena and R.A. Dickey.
“That sounds like a new clubhouse,” Putz said from Arizona. “It’s odd, because when this offseason began, my wife told me this was the first year that Seattle had really felt like home – and then I’m traded.”
New York has been hectic. Putz flew in for a press conference, then he and his wife began looking for a home there. They found one they liked, worked out leasing terms, then saw the house sold the day before they signed the lease agreement.
“The people with the Mets have been fantastic helping us find our way,” Putz said.
And how many Mets does he know?
“Well, there’s Jeremy Reed and Sean Green,” he said, and laughed.
Putz has no misconceptions about his trade. He’s accepted the move, but will miss Seattle and his teammates. Asked what his memories will include, Putz sounded like a talk-show host.
“I’ll give you five off the top of my head,” Putz said, and then did.
“Watching Adrian Beltre accept his first Gold Glove was awesome. The league finally realized how good he really is. I’d put him up against anyone in the game,” Putz said.
“Then there was Ichiro’s single-season hit record. Amazing piece of history.
“Three? Being around Jarrod Washburn in the clubhouse, he’s just a great baseball guy, a wonderful teammate. I’ll really miss Jarrod.”
“Four? Being in the bullpen in Safeco Field, and not just with the guys on the team – but with the fans out there, the sheriff’s guys out there. We had some good times,” Putz said.
“Playing with Raul Ibañez, the ultimate pro in every sense of the word. I’ll see a lot of him this year with the Phillies. I love the guy, but my first pitch to him? Gotta be up and in,” he said, laughing again.
Asked who he thought could close in his place in Seattle, Putz said he didn’t know newcomers Tyler Walker or Aaron Heilman, but assessed the other logical candidates this spring.
“Stuff-wise, Mark Lowe has the fastball to close, but I don’t know about his other pitches,” Putz said. “And everyone knows Brandon Morrow can close, but I don’t think he wants to. That’s not a job you want to get if you’re not ready.”
“What’s baffling about Miguel is he’s got some of the nastiest stuff you’ll ever see, and he throws a 93-97 mph fastball with movement – and he refuses to throw it,” Putz said. “He wants to throw his other pitches to get you out.”
So, it’s the ninth inning of the first game of the regular season, and the Mariners have a one-run lead. Putz, of course, will be sitting in the New York Mets bullpen. Who does Seattle go to?
“If you’re looking for the guy who’s got it downstairs, (Roy) Corcoran is best suited to close,” Putz said. “Roy didn’t care what his role was last year, when he came in, he was ready. I think if he knew the job was his, he’d be even better at it.
“To me, he’s a right-handed Eddie Guardado with a better fastball. He’s not afraid of anyone, and he can do the job.”
One more tough question. Of all his Mariners teammates over the years, who would he most want to face in a game?
Putz didn’t hesitate.
“Ichiro,” he said. “He’s been at the top of his game for eight years, and I never faced him. I’d love the challenge of trying to get him out.”