Sandy Alderson was quoted yesterday that he doesn´t think the Mets are “far away” from contending at this point. While pretty much everyone agrees that the Mets Infield looks pretty good now & going forward and the rotation at the very least has the potential to become a true asset, the outfield & bullpen remain the most troubling areas on the roster.
It seems apparent that the outfield situation won´t get fixed from within but that the Mets - be it sooner or later – will need to add talent from the outside via free agency or trades. Unless you believe that the current ownership group still remains in severe financial distress, there should be plenty of money available to potentially invest into the outfield for 2014 & beyond.
However, the bullpen may be an area where the Mets won´t need to invest a lot of money, yet still have the upside for a quick and massive turnaround. Just to point out how mediocre (or terrible and inefficient the Mets bullpens have been for quite some time, take a look at the performances over the past 10 seasons:
2012: 458.2 IP, 237 ER, 4.65 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
2011: 474.0 IP, 228 ER, 4.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
2010: 481.0 IP, 192 ER, 3.59 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
2009: 501.2 IP, 217 ER, 3.89 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
2008: 493.1 IP, 234 ER, 4.27 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
2007: 511.2 IP, 229 ER, 4.03 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
2006: 542.2 IP, 198 ER, 3.28 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
2005: 413.0 IP, 180 ER, 3.92 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
2004: 520.1 IP, 226 ER, 3.91 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
2003: 492.1 IP, 236 ER, 4.31 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
During that time, the Mets have featured a grand total of 3 (in words THREE) relievers who came up through the Mets farm system (or were still quite young, regardless of where they came from) who provided 50+ innings of relief during any of those seasons, namely Aaron Heilman (from 2005 through 2008), Joe Smith (in 2008) and Bobby Parnell (in 2011 and 2012).
The only other two useful “homegrown” Mets relievers over that span have been Heath Bell & Matt Lindstrom who went on to have solid careers elsewhere but were traded away prior to their success. The Mets bullpens usually were made up of very expensive veteran closers in addition to a couple of – often ineffective – and modestly expensive setup relievers and several veterans or Quadruple-A pitchers that were brought in on the cheap and rarely made a difference.
The one bright spot was the 2006 Cinderella season during which Duaner Sanchez, Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano and Darren Oliver – along with Heilman – formed a very strong setup corps for Billy Wagner for one season until injuries, age, free agency and other issues led to a quick demise. Other than that – through four different GMs over that span btw – the results have been somewhere between mediocre to awful. And if you want to see one common theme that has plagued most recent Mets teams, it´s been a rather shaky bullpen.
Could the utter lack of youngish / inexpensive / non-overused relievers be related to this lack of success ?
Take a look at the 2012 Oakland A´s bullpen which beyond veteran Grant Balfour featured a bunch of no-name guys, mostly youngsters who weren’t deemed capable enough as SP.
Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Jordan Norberto or Evan Scribner among several others weren’t exactly household names prior to 2012, yet combined with the rest of the A´s pen produced a 2.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 512 IP, allowing 167 ER. And thus better numbers than any Mets pen of the past 10 years has ever posted. For less cost than any Mets bullpen between 2003 and 2012, I might add.
Likewise, the Atlanta Braves bullpen of 2012, obviously led by the “super-season” of homegrown flamethrower Craig Kimbrel posted a 2.76 ERA in 486.1 IP (149 ER) and a 1.19 WHIP. Kris Medlen, Cristhian Martinez, Cory Gearrin and Johnny Venters – all young & homegrown pieces contributed along with inexpensive veteran scrap heap pickups Eric O´Flaherty & Chad Durbin. Again, at less combined cost than any of the last 10+ Mets bullpens (thinking about it, probably less than any of the past 25+ Mets bullpens)…
Entering 2013, there finally seems to be help on the very near horizon. For now, 15 pitchers figure to compete for 7 bullpen spots out of spring training – about half of them young / inexperience / inexpensive:
- Frank Francisco
- Bobby Parnell
- Brandon Lyon (apparently)
- Josh Edgin
- Scott Atchison
- LaTroy Hawkins
- Greg Burke
- Jeurys Familia
- Pedro Feliciano
- Robert Carson
- Elvin Ramirez
- Darin Gorski
- Alex Torres
- Jeremy Hefner
- Aaron Laffey
So, at the very least and unlike most past springs, the Mets have a bunch of options to choose from for a variety of roles. By the end of the 2013 season Gonzalez Germen, Jack Leathersich, Cory Mazzoni, Jacob DeGrom, Jenry Mejia (if he doesn´t start), Armando Rodriguez or Collin McHugh (if he doesn´t start) also all could well emerge as viable candidates for bullpen roles going forward.
By spring of 2014, there´s a very strong chance that for the first time in decades (early / mid 1980s ?), the Mets could finally feature a young & inexpensive group of relievers instead of an aging, overpaid and mostly mediocre bullpen. While there´s obviously no guarantee it works, there are plenty of options to choose from and it´s the one area – sort of under the radar – where a team can improve substantially in a hurry by easily shaving off 50+ runs allowed per season at small cost. That alone can be worth a 5+ win swing in any given season (general rule of thumb: 10 Runs – whether they are saved or scored = 1 Win). . Compared to the awful 2012 version, that´s probably up to 8 extra wins. And it doesn´t take a lot of wishful thinking to see it happen during the upcoming one or two seasons based on the depth of young pitching on the rise beyond the “big names”.