Mejia’s Future…as a Closer?

There has been a lot of talk about what to do with Jenrry Mejia. Do the Mets send him to the minor leagues and start to stretch him out to become a starting pitcher? Do they keep him in the bullpen and hope he matures in the major leagues?

After Francisco Rodriguez’s best attempt to allow the Yankees to have yet another Subway Series moment, I’ve decided what the future should hold for Mejia. 

This kid needs to be groomed for a future as a closer in the big leagues. Whether that means send him down and have him work on that mindset in the minor leagues if the 2010 Mets are ever “out of it”, or have him remain in the bullpen to get tough outs in the 7th inning, that’s up to the guys who get paid to make those decisions. 

I realize the 2010 Mets need starting pitching, but I just don’t see a possible scenario where Mejia is sent to the minors to get “stretched out,” and then comes back in time to help the ballclub in the rotation. I also haven’t seen enough from Mejia in 2010 to tell me his stuff is good enough to go through a lineup more than once.

Think about the whole Joba Chamberlain experiment in the Bronx. Joba has much more “stuff” than Mejia, so giving him a shot as a starter made sense. However, when push came to shove, I think we all agree that Chamberlain is best suited for the 8th inning role, and eventually will be a closer.

This team needs starting pitching, but the best organizations know how to focus on 2010, while planning for 2011, 2012 etc. Having Mejia as a starting pitcher to me, won’t give this team any better results than if Takahashi remained in the rotation full-time, or if John Maine wipes the puss off his face and starts pitching. 

This is a franchise that has consistently signed free agent closers who are either past their prime, or will be by the end of their contract with the Mets. To me, that 9th inning role is as important to this franchise moving forward as any 4th or 5th starter. Think about the league’s 4th and 5th starters. Some would say, they are a dime a dozen, it’s just about whether you pick the right ones to fill your rotation.

Now, think about the league’s best closers. If I had a team and needed 3 outs, I’d go to guys like Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, and probably Brian Wilson. Sure, there are guys like Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, and Rafael Soriano etc. stacking up the Saves right now. However, over the last few years, the 5 I previously mentioned to me are the guys you should have the most confidence in. 

Other than Heath Bell, my top closers all have been with just 1 team each. Bell of course was a part of the Mets for three years prior to landing in San Diego. By the way, I do not fault the Mets for giving up on Bell. The guy was 28 years old and consistently had an ERA over 5.00 and was not coming close to striking batters out at the pace in which he currently does. It happens, but it’s not as though they gave up on Bell when he was 25.

Now, consider that (in my opinion) the 5 best closers in Major League Baseball all began their closer role career with the team they are currently on. Now, look at the Mets over the course of time with that same position. 

2009 – 2010: Francisco Rodriguez signed at age 27, but everybody thinking he may have already past his prime.

2006 – 2008: Billy Wagner signed at the age of 34.

2004 – 2005: Braden Looper, signed at the age of 29.

1999 – 2003: Acquired Armando Benitez in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles. Benitez was just 26 years old, but had already foreshadowed his ability to blow games 2 years earlier with the famous Jeffrey Maier home run.

1990 – 2003: The Mets acquired John Franco, who would be granted free agency 3 times during this time period, and all 3 times he signed with the Mets. Franco was 29 years old when he first pitched for the Mets. They signed him prior to the 1995 season at age 34, then prior to the 2001 season at age 40, and finally prior to the 2004 season at age 43. He really stopped closing games though in 1999 with the arrival of Benitez. 

1992: Who can forget about Anthony Young? Young is possibly the only reason I can think of that would create fear of turning Mejia into a Closer. Young was drafted by the Mets out of the University of Houston in the 38th round of the 1987 draft.

1988-1989: Prior to John Franco and the Anthony Young experiment, the Mets had Randy Myers as their closer. The problem is, the Mets only had him in that role for two years before they decided to trade him to Cincinnati for John Franco.

So as you can see, the Mets have been through this odd stage in their organization history where they acquire closers who all seem to be very good at one thing. Giving Mets fan heart burn.

There are plenty of starting pitchers out there if this team was truly interested in making a run for a playoff berth. However, the future has to be considered for life after K-Rod. The Mets have 2 choices, they can continue to just wait for another closer to hit free agency past their prime and deal with the same old RISP in the 9th inning saga, or they can see if they already have a future closer wearing a uniform right now in Jenrry Mejia.

Francisco Rodriguez’s contract is up after the 2011 season, unless he meets certain criteria that would force a 2012 option to be enacted. Finding a closer to fill that gap is as important in my opinion as finding a 4th or 5th starter. The Mets stadium is built for close games, won or lost by the quality of your bullpen. If the Mets want to build a team to win in their stadium, they need a closer to fill that role for several years to come.

I think the best thing you can do for Mejia, the 2010 Mets, and the future Mets is to keep Mejia in the bullpen. Let him hang out with a guy like Francisco Rodriguez. Watch him prepare for the 9th inning. Let him take his lumps in the 7th or 8th inning, so that he can find the stuff that works when you only need to get 3 or 4 outs.

If the Mets don’t plan on Mejia to be their closer in 2012 (or 2013), then what could possibly be their plan of action except to hope a guy like Papelbon or Broxton hit the open market, but even that would just become business as usual.

About Michael Branda 267 Articles
Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.