Pedro Feliciano to decline arbitration

Rubber-armed left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano will decline the New York Mets' arbitration offer and continue to pursue free agency, agent Melvin Roman said Tuesday.

Feliciano, 34, earned $2.9 million last season. He potentially stood to make $4 million or more on a one-year deal had he accepted.

Feliciano's decision to decline arbitration does not preclude the Mets from continuing to pursue him this offseason, although salary constraints might make that unlikely. The Mets will get a draft pick between the first and second rounds if Feliciano ultimately signs elsewhere.

Wherever Feliciano lands, the price tag may be high.

Some recent big paydays for left-handed relievers:

J.C. Romero, Philadelphia Phillies: three years, $12 million in November 2007, with $4.5 million club option for 2011.

Mike Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles: two years, $12 million in December 2009.

Damaso Marte, New York Yankees: three years, $12 million in November 2008, with $4 million option for 2012.

Jamie Walker, Baltimore Orioles: three years, $12 million in November 2006.

Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco Giants: two years, $9.5 million in March 2010, with $5 million option for 2012.

Ron Mahay, Kansas City Royals: two years, $8 million in December 2007.

Feliciano has set franchise records for relief appearances three straight seasons -- 86 in 2008, 88 in 2009, and 92 in 2010. This year's relief appearance total tied for fourth most in major league history, trailing only Mike Marshall (106 in 1974), Kent Tekulve (94 in 1979) and Salomon Torres (94 in 2006).

Not bad for a pitcher who was so sparingly used early in his career with the Mets that when Feliciano finally appeared in an Aug. 27, 2003, game in Atlanta after a 20-day absence, he developed a blister and needed to miss an 28 additional days.

Feliciano's three-year total of 266 appearances is considerably more than any other major league reliever from 2008 to 2010. Carlos Marmol ranks second, having made 238 relief appearances for the Chicago Cubs during that span. Matt Guerrier, another free agent, ranks third with 229 relief appearances for the Minnesota Twins during the past three seasons.

The workload raises concern about how much longer Feliciano can sustain his production, although the arbitration offer only committed the Mets to retaining Feliciano through next season and not a multiyear deal.

The Mets' decision last week to offer Feliciano arbitration came as a mild surprise since the organization already has roughly $130 million committed to 2011 payroll and general manager Sandy Alderson consistently has said the Mets will not be aggressive in the free-agent market because of a tight budget. The Mets may have made the offer with draft-pick compensation in mind.

Feliciano actually is the longest-tenured Met, although his service has not been uninterrupted.

He was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds as part of a package for left-hander Shawn Estes on Aug. 15, 2002, and made his major league debut three weeks later. Feliciano was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Tigers that offseason, but was re-signed by the Mets later that winter as a free agent.

It was under former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson that Feliciano soon thereafter dropped to a low, three-quarters arm slot to become more effective in lefty-on-lefty matchups. He honed that delivery while spending the 2005 season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan's Pacific League. Feliciano returned the following season and played an important role as the Mets came within a game of reaching the World Series.

In terms of uninterrupted service, shortstop Jose Reyes (June 10, 2003 debut with the Mets) and third baseman David Wright (July 21, 2004) are the only current players who have been with the major league club longer.

The Mets already lost Hisanori Takahashi this offseason, leaving no other established left-hander in the bullpen. Takahashi had language written into his contract that forced the Mets to release him if the sides could not agree to an extension. The Mets are not permitted to re-sign Takahashi and use him at the major league level until May 15 -- ensuring he will not return.

No clear-cut internal left-handed relief alternatives to Feliciano exist. Oliver Perez is signed for $12 million for next season and has tossed 10 straight scoreless innings in the Mexican Winter League, but trusting that role to a control-challenged pitcher who had severely diminished velocity last season might be a dicey proposition at best.

Pat Misch might be the best major league-ready left-handed relief option other than Feliciano under the team's control. The closest left-handed relief prospect is 25-year-old Eric Niesen, but he walked 60 and hit 10 batters in 77 innings at Double-A Binghamton last season and needs to develop more consistency. The Mets also have re-signed ex-Washington National Mike O'Connor to a minor league contract. He has a 1.59 ERA in 16 relief appearances for Licey in the Dominican Winter League.

In fact, the Mets' bullpen overall needs substantial work this offseason. Only Bobby Parnell and closer Francisco Rodriguez can be counted upon from the right side. Rodriguez may finally have criminal charges, which stem from an altercation with his girlfriend's father, settled at a scheduled hearing Friday at Queens Criminal Court.

In a division with several prominent left-handed hitters, Feliciano has been successful as well as durable.

Philadelphia's Ryan Howard has a .196 average and one homer in 36 career at-bats against Feliciano. Chase Utley is hitting .222 with two homers in 36 at-bats. Raul Ibañez is hitting .154 with a homer in 13 at-bats. Atlanta's Jason Heyward was 1-for-9 against Feliciano during the right fielder's rookie season, although teammate Brian McCann does have a .357 average, but no homers, in 28 career at-bats.

As for other prominent left-handed hitters in the National League, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder is 1-for-9 lifetime against Feliciano. San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is 3-for-15 (.200) with eight strikeouts.

With a lack of capable late-inning relievers, then-manager Jerry Manuel did try to use Feliciano for full innings this past season. That experiment was not successful. Right-handed batters hit .336 against Feliciano, versus .211 for left-handed batters, in 2010.

The Mets have struggled to find a capable second situational left-handed reliever to pair with Feliciano to limit his workload, much less locate a replacement. (Billy Wagner is left-handed, but was the closer.) Over the past several seasons, that left-handed relief group has included high-priced but ineffective import Scott Schoeneweis (three years, $10.8 million) and a slew of journeymen, including Raul Valdes, Dae-Sung Koo, Ken Takahashi, Royce Ring, Ricardo Rincon, Willie Collazo, Tim Hamulack, Mike Matthews, Jon Switzer, Casey Fossum, Felix Heredia and Dave Williams.

Adam Rubin covers MLB for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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