Many Met fans would be thrilled if Sandy Alderson snatched ex-Met Heath Bell off the free agent market this winter. But established closers, like all pitchers these days, come at a hefty price. For a cash-strapped organization hoping to re-sign Jose Reyes, trying to develop a closer from within is the best option. The Mets messed up their chance with Bell. Now, they should learn from their mistakes with Heath and not let another talent slip away.
There are a few sides to the Heath Bell/Mets saga. There’s the numbers story, which shows that, as a Met, Bell consistently performed well at AAA Norfolk but couldn’t put it together in the majors. There’s Bell’s story, in which he states the Mets treated him like crap, bouncing him between AAA and the big leagues and at times leaving him in limbo, waiting in hotel rooms and on buses. He also says then-pitching coach Rick Peterson never approved of his pitching motion and criticized his weight. And then there’s Peterson’s story, which I’m sure is different altogether.
When Bell was traded to San Diego in 2006, it was hard to argue with the decision; his ’05 ERA was 5.59, and in ’06 his ERA was 5.11 in 22 appearances before the deal. However, in both of those years Bell struck out almost a batter per inning. He touched 95 mph. His walk ratios were decent (they were actually better with the Mets than they have been with the Padres). The potential was there, but he simply wasn’t getting enough hitters out.
Suddenly, in 2007, something clicked, and now Bell is one of the elite closers in the game. Certainly, he had a chip on his shoulder, and he also needed a change of scenery. But while Bell’s failure as a Met is largely his own, the reality is that the Mets — for whatever reason — failed to bring out the best in him.
Now, there is a new Mets regime faced with the opportunity to turn a gifted arm into a successful relief pitcher.
Enter Bobby Parnell.
Parnell is just 26, and his stuff is more electric than Bell’s was at that age in 2004. He had a strong full season in 2010 (2.83 ERA, 8.5 K/9, and 2.1 BB/9 in 41 games), and this year he has frequently hit 100 mph — sometimes with freakish movement — and is fanning a career-high 10.8 batters per nine. However, as was the case with Bell, Parnell’s WHIP and ERA (1.512 and 4.10) are unsatisfactory. His control has been lackluster. Simply put, he’s got work to do.
It’s easy to get impatient with Parnell since he’s been in the big leagues since 2008, and since it seems like he should dominate hitters with his nasty stuff. But he’s 26. (Mariano became the Yankee closer when he was 27.) If Dan Warthen and the rest of the Met organization treat Parnell with patience, confidence and care, they can help him polish his skills and he might become closer material. Maybe he won’t pan out. But it is up to the Mets to give him the best possible chance to be their closer of the future.
Luckily, this regime is better suited than the last one to bring out the best in a raw young arm. Omar Minaya, and perhaps Peterson, were too often stubborn and impatient in an effort to fix immediate problems. On the other hand, Alderson realizes that, for the franchise to again be a consistent contender, young talent must be properly developed. Hopefully Warthen and Terry Collins realize this too.
Watching Bobby Parnell work out the kinks in his game has been, and will continue to be, frustrating. But he has to be given a chance to reach his full potential. In the long term, it will pay off.
Tags: 2011 Mets Aaron Leibowitz Bobby Parnell Bobby Parnell Closer Bobby Parnell Stats Dan Warthen Heath Bell Heath Bell Mets Heath Bell Stats Jose Reyes Mets New York New York Mets Omar Minaya Rick Peterson Rising Apple Sandy Alderson