We haven’t had the chance to say this all that often this winter, but the Mets have been pretty busy this weekend with regard to the bullpen. On the heels of signing Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins to minor league deals with invites to Big League camp, the Amazins are still in search for bullpen help as an insurance policy for Frank Francisco, and there have been plenty of rumors flying around as they’re trying to find the final pieces of their relief corps.
As news broke that Sandy was still looking for arms, rumors surfaced that the organization considered a reunion with Francisco Rodriguez, but had been more seriously pursuing former Tigers closer, Jose Valverde. Coming off a rocky 2012 season and off-season surgery, Alderson and the front office don’t feel confident not having another veteran reliever in the ‘pen that could take over if Frank Frank once again implodes. So, after unsuccessfully trying to convince Roy Oswalt to become a closer, the Mets had been rumored to be interested in veteran hurlers such as Derek Lowe and Daisuke Matsuzaka as potential swingmen. Lowe started and relieved last year while splitting time with the Indians and Yankees, and the sinkerballer has said he prefers to start in 2013. As for Dice-K, he’s been riddled with injuries since 2010, and when he’s been able to get on the mound, it hasn’t been pretty.
When it comes to possibly pursuing either of these pitchers to become swingmen, I have few thoughts as to why it would be a bad idea. If the Mets went ahead and signed either one of these pitchers, that wouldn’t make me feel any better if Francisco flames out and New York is in need of someone else to close. Matsuzaka doesn’t have experience closing games, Lowe hasn’t been a primary closer in over 10 years, and I would rather Terry Collins give the job back to Bobby Parnell instead of either of these free agents.
Looking specifically at Dice-K, he walks way too many hitters to be considered a decent option for the bullpen, even if he’s brought in on a non-guaranteed deal. I agree that it doesn’t hurt to bring him in on a contract like that to see if he has anything left in the tank, but even when he was completely healthy as a starter for the Red Sox, his BB/9 rate was consistently over 4, and approaching 5 at times. It’s crucial for a reliever to throw strikes upon their entrance to the ballgame, as we saw first-hand last season what happened when hurlers like Miguel Batista, Manny Acosta, and Ramon Ramirez didn’t (among others).
Lastly, it makes me scratch my head as to why Jeremy Hefner is getting overlooked for this role. I know he’ll be in camp and will be getting the same opportunity as every other pitcher that takes the mound looking for a spot on the Big League roster, but in my eyes, he’s the ultimate swingman, and proved he could be productive enough to fill that role when given the chance. The most important statistic from Hefner when I look at his 26 appearances (13 starts) with the Amazins last season is his 1.7 BB/9 rate. At the very least, he comes in and throws strikes and keeps the defense in the game. He gained a lot of confidence in his last two dominant starts of 2012, and I think he can ride that wave to have a successful season in the role of swingman.
I understand and applaud Alderson for looking at each and every opportunity on the market and signing whomever he thinks could be a productive member of what was a terrible bullpen last year, but like I said a couple weeks ago with regard to Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb, the Mets need to stay away from Dice-K and Derek Lowe. Thankfully, with the news that they’re close to a deal with Brandon Lyon and confident they can get it done, it looks like this potential signing will be the last piece needed to complete the makeover of the bullpen. So, that means pitchers like Valverde, K-Rod, and others will have to go elsewhere to find work, and New York will trust some of their young pitchers to step up this season.
Even though Alderson is admittedly not happy with what the outfield looks like heading into Spring Training (a week from today!!!), I think he’s done a fantastic job with the bullpen, especially once this deal with Lyon becomes official. Putting together a group of relievers to be successful can be a crapshoot, and his strategy of finding a lot of low risk options could pay some handsome dividends come summer. Whichever veterans make the squad, it could be a perfect mix of experience and youth, which should help make that part of the roster a strength this season, instead of their biggest weakness.