El Duque becomes free agent
Right-hander missed all of '08 season with foot injury
NEW YORK -- Orlando Hernandez's stint with the Mets all but officially came to an end Saturday night, when the right-hander filed for free agency. If El Duque is to pitch again in the Major Leagues -- and his impending retirement seems likely -- then it will almost certainly be with another team.
Hernandez did not throw a pitch for the Mets this season, battling a strained tendon in his right foot. Nearly beating out Mike Pelfrey for the fifth starter's job out of Spring Training, El Duque instead began the season on the disabled list and remained there for its entirety. And the saga of his right foot was markedly more complicated than that.
During Spring Training, Hernandez attempted to alter his delivery to reduce his pain, abandoning his signature high leg kick -- and plenty of velocity along with it. He quickly ditched that idea and waited for the team to provide him with a specially fitted boot for his right foot, but that did not help his recovery. El Duque left a rehab start early in July, and never again came close to a return.
Coming to the Mets in a midseason trade with the Diamondbacks in 2006, Hernandez pitched well for the remainder of that year, and had a productive -- albeit unhealthy -- season in '07. The Mets expected him to produce similarly for them in '08, but his right foot issues made that all but impossible.
A veteran of four teams over nine big league seasons, El Duque is best known for his postseason performances during the Yankees' championship years of 1998 through 2000, and in relief with the White Sox in '05. He holds a career 12-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 19 postseason outings with those two teams. Hernandez, battling a calf injury, did not make the playoff roster when the Mets made the postseason in '06.
In 2007, his last full season with the Mets, El Duque was 9-5 with a 3.72 ERA in 24 starts and three relief appearances. He is 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA for his career, and will likely finish with those numbers unless some team takes a chance on him in '09. Although he is listed at 39 years old, questions remain over whether or not the Cuban defector is actually older than that.
El Duque on Saturday became the last of 10 eligible Mets to file for free agency -- discounting Fernando Tatis, who signed a one-year deal with the team earlier this week. And despite the current holes in their rotation -- Oliver Perez and Pedro Martinez also filed for free agency -- the Mets have not shown any interest in re-signing El Duque.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.