Upon hearing General Manager Sandy Alderson state that he is not “terribly comfortable” with Frank Francisco reprising his role as the team’s closer, other well-known relievers are now being mentioned as potential additions to a Mets’ bullpen that ranked 15th in the National League with a 4.65 ERA. Among those relievers rumored to be currently targeted includes Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Wilson and Brandon Lyon. The news of Alderson looking for additional help to fill the back end of the bullpen comes shortly after the club agreed to terms with veteran relievers Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins to Minor League deals. These low-risk, high reward type deals are a different approach from the last offseason, as Alderson spent a significant amount of his offseason budget — $18.5 million — on Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. While Rauch bounced back in the second-half after struggling to began the 2012 season, Alderson has good reason to not be confident in his current closer, as Francisco battled injuries throughout his first season with the Mets, appearing in only 48 games, in which he compiled a 5.53 ERA .
Francisco, 33, is entering the final year of a two-year, $12 million contract signed in December 2011. Having battled injuries in his inaugural season in New York, Francisco looks to fully recover from off-season elbow surgery, as well as his disappointing 2012. However, that task won’t come easy for Francisco, as the organization is entertaining outside alternatives to replace Francisco as closer.
Even if the Mets don’t sign another proven closer to compete with Francisco, 28-year-old Bobby Parnell is an intriguing in-house candidate to shut the door late in games in 2013. Parnell appeared in 74 games, going 5-4 with a 2.49 ERA. While making strides in his progression as a pitcher, Parnell is still in the transition of evolving from a thrower to a pitcher. Since 2008, when Parnell made his debut with the Mets, his ability to throw his fastball in the triple digits has been widely noticed. While impressive, Parnell has been hurt by his love for constantly dialing it up and trying to blow his fastball by hitters. It wasn’t until this past season where Parnell incorporated his secondary pitches to be more effective on the mound. The art of pitching involves changing speeds and hitting your spots. It isn’t about throwing the hardest. Despite having high velocity on pitches, Major League hitters have the ability to adjust and hit pitches accordingly. The closer role is one Parnell is familiar with, as he notched seven saves in 12 opportunities for New York in 2012. Although progress has been made in his overall development as a pitcher, the question still remains whether Parnell has the mental ability to lock down games in the ninth-inning.
Jose Valverde, 34, is currently the latest free-agent target the Mets have their eyes on. Valverde spent the last three seasons with the Detroit Tigers, and despite being a two-time All-Star with them, he showed signs of significant struggles during the second-half of last season and postseason. In four appearances during the 2012 postseason, Valverde allowed nine runs in 2.2 innings pitched. What concerns me the most about Valverde is his health. During a post-game interview in October, manager Jim Leyland mentioned to reporters that Valverde was staying away from throwing all of his pitches. Even after coming off a regular season where he compiled a 3.78 ERA with 35 saves, the Tigers have made no effort in re-signing Valverde. Those two examples makes me wonder if Valverde is dealing with a serious shoulder or elbow injury.
I will say this, I like the concept of stock piling arms to low-risk, high-reward contracts. When it comes to constructing a bullpen, I believe that outside of spending on a well-established closer, it’s best to buy low, given the fact that predicting the productivity of relievers is drastically erratic compared to predicting the same for position players.
I do expect Alderson to sign another reliever for the back-end of the bullpen. Given Valverde’s poor performance towards the end of the second-half, I can only envision Alderson signing Valverde if he can be had on a relevantly cheap contract. If I had to make an educated guess at the moment, I would say either Brian Wilson or Brandon Lyon signs with the Mets to compete for the closer role. Francisco Rodriguez’s name has been mentioned, but I doubt Alderson and the front office would be willing to take a Public Relations hit, given his history with the franchise. Even with improvements to the bullpen, many holes still remain in the current Mets’ roster. Personally, I’m more eager to see the Michael Bourn situation unfold, as I hope the Mets are able to sign Bourn to a four-year deal.