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Phillies happy to welcome Mets' castoff

And the Mets-Phillies rivalry becomes just a tiny bit more delicious:

    Nelson Figueroa, who was designated for assignment by the Mets when Sean Green beat him out for the final bullpen spot, has been claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Figueroa pitched for the Phillies in 2001, going 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA in 19 appearances (13 starts).

    A Brooklyn native and Brandeis University alum, Figueroa had a strong spring training for the Mets, despite one poor outing skewing his numbers and leading to a 4.61 Grapefruit League ERA.

    --snip--

    Figueroa, 35, was mulling going to Japan for a payday rather than join the Mets in the minors had he gone unclaimed off waivers. He recalled clearing waivers six other times in his career.

It's been an odd career. Figueroa's spent all or part of 11 seasons in Triple-A -- including last season, during which he turned 35 -- and his 81 Triple-A wins must rank at or near the top of the list among active players.

Essentially, he's one of those 4-A starters you're always hearing about. His ERA in Triple-A (largely as a starter) is 3.53; as a starter in the majors he's got a 4.96 ERA. Sure, that's only 49 starts in the majors and a conscientious sabermetrician would regress all those numbers. But fair or not, that's the take on Figueroa.

Meanwhile, he's been slightly better as a reliever, with a slightly lower walk rate and a significantly lower home run rate. That's just 105 innings, but of course we expect pitchers to look better when relieving than starting, simply because (frankly) it's an easier job.

The nice thing about Figueroa is that you know what you're getting. When he relieves, he'll be decent. When he starts, he'll essentially give you the typical performance of a NO. 4 or 5 starter. There's something to be said for reliability. As Joe Janish points out, Figueroa "had a spectacular spring, he had a great winter campaign, [and] an outstanding year at AAA in 2009..."

Further,

    The irony is that three of the pitchers who will be in the rotation -- Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez -- have much more talent, yet they don’t always pitch to their potential because they are often lacking in the “4 C’s” that Figgy depends on: craftiness, composure, consistency, and competitiveness. I would’ve kept Figgy around for no reason other than to hope that those traits would somehow rub off on the Mets’ youngsters and eternal enigmas -- or at least, to be an inspiration of sorts. Unfortunately, it’s hard to win the #5 spot in the rotation when it is held by someone due $24M over the next two years. How Figueroa didn’t at least earn a job as a long man in the bullpen, though, is mind-boggling.

I don't know if I'd go quite that far. After all, we're talking about a 35-year-old pitcher with 13 wins and 0 saves as a major leaguer. But considering that the Phillies usually are smarter than the Mets, one does wonder ...