While Sandy Alderson and the Mets continue to wait out free agent Scott Hairston and scour the free agent market for veteran starting pitching, reports surfaced this week that the organization would like to sign one of two veteran relievers to Major League deals before the team reports to Spring Training. So, now that we’re almost at the midway point in January, are there really any valuable free agent relief arms left in the market? The answer to that question is yes.
After rebuilding the bullpen last winter by acquiring Ramon Ramirez via trade and signing Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, Alderson was really hoping he wouldn’t be doing the same thing again this off-season. But, here we are, watching him go about rebuilding the ‘pen, after they were one of the worst performers in baseball during 2o12. Sandy has already done some “addition by subtraction” by letting Ramirez, Rauch, and Manny Acosta walk, while signing Greg Burke and Aaron Laffey to minor league deals with invites to Big League camp. With Francisco coming off surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow, it would be prudent of Alderson to bring in a veteran reliever that has closing experience. Not only so he can fill the role in case Frank Frank goes down, but to also provide guidance to Bobby Parnell, as his role in the ‘pen continues to have more importance.
There are quite a few notable veteran arms the Mets could go after and sign for a one-year deal that I would be happy with; some that come to mind are Chad Durbin, Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, and Juan Cruz. However, I went through the free agent list on MLB Trade Rumors and specifically looked for names of pitchers I didn’t recognize. I threw out the notable names for this article because of reports earlier this month that New York would be “bottom feeding” for the ‘pen this year. The two names that looked most intriguing to me are Mark Lowe and Rafael Perez.
I know, you might be saying, “Who and who?” but both of these pitchers could be worthy pickups for the Amazins. Let’s start with Lowe; the 29-year-old Houston, TX native was selected in the 5th round of the 2004 draft by the Mariners out of the University of Texas, and made his MLB debut two years later at the age of 23. After posting a 1.93 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 18.2 innings pitched in 2006 for Seattle, he would only pitch to a sub-5.30 ERA once in the next four seasons, and found himself back home in the Texas heat with the Rangers during the middle of the 2010 season. It was 2011 where he started to turn things around, as he compiled a 3.80 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 52 appearances. His 2012 season was cut short due to a mid-summer injury, but he still showed more imrprovement, lowering his ERA to 3.43 and WHIP to 1.22 in 39.1 innings pitched.
He’s a fastball-slider kind of pitcher, and has the velocity Sandy would like in a late game situation (96.8mph in ’11, 93.9mph in ’12); with a 0.77 GB/FB ratio last season, his tendency to induce fly balls would work great at Citi Field, and although he only has 5 career saves, Lowe has finished 68 games during his seven-year career. He earned $1.7 million with the Rangers in 2012, but was non-tendered in his third-year of arbitration, so the right-hander will be coming real cheap, especially with only a month before Spring Training.
Now, let’s take a look at Rafael Perez. The southpaw had been an important piece of the Cleveland bullpen in 2010 and 2011, racking up two straight seasons of 70+ appearances and posting a combined 11-2 record to go with a 3.13 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 124 innings pitched. However, his 2012 was cut short when he went down with a lat injury in April. His rehab was going well until he suffered a setback in September, and never saw the field again. He appeared in 8 games (7.1 IP) before he suffered his season-ending injury, and was having a good start (3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP).
Unlike Lowe, Perez is more of a ground ball pitcher (2.03 career GB/FB ratio) and is a soft-tosser (87.7mph fastball in ’12), which would pair well with young, hard-throwing lefties like Josh Edgin or Robert Carson in the Met bullpen. If Perez is healthy (and I haven’t heard or seen anything to the contrary), he would be worth a look by the Mets. He earned just over $2 million from Cleveland last year, but will be a lot cheaper for 2013. Signing another lefty could push Aaron Laffey either into a long-man role, or put him into the conversation for the rotation competition.
Personally, I would love to see Sandy sign LaTroy Hawkins (88 career saves) to be insurance for Francisco, in addition to acquiring either Lowe or Perez to fill out the rest of the pitching staff. Which free agent relievers would you like to see the Mets sign?
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