Rockies target veteran reliever Mesa

Rockies pursuing Mesa to bolster bullpen

DENVER -- Colorado manager Clint Hurdle has given a personal recruiting pitch to veteran free agent pitcher Jose Mesa as the Rockies attempt to fill the important eighth-inning setup role.

Hurdle said on Thursday that the Rockies are not rushing their offseason decisions, and next week's winter meetings in Dallas could give them a better idea of the market for relievers. But Hurdle acknowledged that the perception that the Rockies are further ahead with Mesa than others "wouldn't be far from the truth."

Mesa, who turns 40 on May 22, has served as the Pittsburgh Pirates' closer the last two seasons, finishing with 43 saves in 2004 and 27 in 2005. Hurdle said Brian Fuentes, who finished with 31 saves and participated in the All-Star Game in 2005, is the clear closer, but he'd like a pitcher with experience closing games that could accept a setup role and close games when Fuentes isn't available.

"Jose Mesa has pitched in some big games," Hurdle said. "He's a 40-year-old grown man. We're looking for somebody that we can hand the ball to in April on Opening Day and not have his heart go aflutter."

Of course, Mesa isn't the only choice. Hurdle said he happens to have a little more familiarity with Mesa, so he has gotten involved along with general manager Dan O'Dowd. Hurdle also said the Rockies are researching right-hander Felix Rodriguez, who faced the Rockies often while he pitched for San Francisco from 1999-2004.

Colorado believes that adding a veteran reliever to the late-game mix, that currently includes Fuentes and right-hander Mike DeJean, could make the Rockies better quickly. They languished at 15-35 at the start of the season before adding vets DeJean, Jay Witasick (later traded to Oakland) and Dan Miceli, and began holding on to late leads more regularly. Miceli also is a free agent and possible target.

Cost is the question.

Toronto signed B.J. Ryan to the richest contract ever for a reliever (five years, $47 million), the New York Mets signed Billy Wagner for five years and $43 million -- and it's not just closers getting the money. The New York Yankees could sign setup man Kyle Farnsworth for three years and $17 million. The Chicago Cubs have signed Bobby Howry for three years and $12 million and Scott Eyre for two years and $11 million, and Tim Worrell signed a two-year, $4 million deal with San Francisco to serve as their setup man.

What all that means to the Rockies' attempts to sign a veteran within a tight budget of not more than $50 million is unclear.

"A handful of people are going to get overpaid, and a lot more will be underpaid, so we'll see what happens," Hurdle said. "We have prioritized, started to do professional background checks and screening, and Dan has talked with every ballcub and every agent. We'll have a better idea at the winter meetings."

Another priority is finding an experienced starter for the rotation, but the Rockies are giving Byung-Hyun Kim a chance to return as that guy. Kim, a free agent, went 5-12 with a 4.86 ERA for Colorado in 2005 but was clearly better in his 22 starts (5-9, 4.37 ERA) than his 18 relief appearances (0-3, 7.66 ERA).

"When we're evaluating a player, we put up a sheet, and draw a line down the middle of the paper," Hurdle said. "There were a lot of pluses in [Kim's] case. He carried a nice workload and as the season went on his stamina grew. He showed he was capable of going deep in games and throwing 120 pitches. I think he showed that our ballpark didn't affect his pitching.

"Now he's [a free agent] and can see where he fits in the market, and that remains to be seen. We have put a lot of time and energy into him, and I think he did the same with us, but it has to be a two-way street. Does he want to be a guy who is going to be counted upon, and does he want that to be in Colorado?"

Colorado also has talked to veteran starters Shawn Estes, Tony Armas Jr. and Pedro Astacio. Also, right-handed starter/reliever Brian Meadows is on Colorado's wish list.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.