On Tuesday night, Bobby Parnell blew his first save in more than a month. While his two blown saves in April can be blamed on errant fielding, this one was all on Parnell, whose only out came on Steve Lombardozzi’s game-winning sac fly that lifted the Nationals over the Mets 3-2. Despite the setback, the rejuvenated Parnell has been surprisingly solid as New York’s ninth inning guy in 2013, chalking up nine saves and a 2.55 ERA in 25 appearances.
With the rest of his team struggling so badly, Sandy Alderson must ask himself a question he last had to consider in 2011: with the Mets still in rebuilding mode, should he trade one of the team’s few bright spots before the July 31 deadline?
The last time Alderson had to ask this question was in the wake of Jose Reyes’s and Carlos Beltran’s stellar final years in New York. Recognizing the trade value of a reinvigorated Beltran, who was in the final year of his seven-year megadeal, Sandy shipped him off to San Francisco at the 2011 deadline for now soon-to-be major-league starter Zack Wheeler. That same year, he listened to the fans’ impassioned pleas and held onto Reyes through the whole season. While Jose finished the year as the Mets’ first-ever batting champion, the team finished 77-85, good for fourth place in the NL East, and free agent Reyes bolted for the rebranded Miami Marlins during the Winter Meetings.
While Parnell’s contract situation isn’t nearly as dire (he’s eligible for arbitration next year but won’t be a free agent until 2016), the talent shortage that plagued the Mets in 2011 remains, even two years later. Hence the question: is it worth it to keep Bobby Parnell on a roster with so many other holes?
Tamer Chamma’s Bleacher Report article from May 19 provides the “don’t trade” side to the argument: Parnell finally has a second pitch (the knuckle curve) to go along with his fastball, and the Mets have their first home-grown closer since Randy Myers or arguably Tug McGraw. The “trade” argument comes from a June 1 piece by Jon Krouner, also of the Bleacher Report: Parnell is a guy Alderson can sell high on, and his talent is wasted on a team that won’t give him many save opportunities to begin with.
I am torn between these two choices, much more so than I was on the Beltran and Reyes situations of 2011 (trade Beltran, keep Reyes). On one hand, I recognize the need for the Mets to bring in talent as they prepare to make a run in 2014 and 2015. Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog reports that the team will be buyers at the deadline, in pursuit of high-quality outfielders like Carlos Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. Packaging Parnell with a couple of farmhands from New York’s fertile starting pitching crop, such as Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero, could be enough to commandeer CarGo or someone of his caliber.
On the other hand, Parnell’s development means that of all the holes in the Mets’ lineup, one of them has finally been filled by arguably the only really good reliever in the bullpen. I seriously doubt Brandon Lyon, Greg Burke, or a healthy Frank Francisco could do a better job closing out games than Parnell is doing right now. Additionally, I am a sentimental man when it comes to seeing players I have come to know on the cusp of leaving the team. We all have watched Bobby Parnell grow from young flamethrower to quality reliever, and seeing him finally flourish in the closer’s role after so many failed attempts warms my heart.
Still, those many failed attempts raise still one more question: do the Mets trust Bobby Parnell to be their long-term ninth-inning answer? Parnell’s biggest problem during past stints as closer was his lack of poise on the mound; he was more a flamethrower than a polished pitcher, thus easier for experienced major leaguers to get ahold of for extra-base hits. This year he has more consistently been the latter, but Tuesday’s night DC debacle saw him revert back to his old flamethrower mentality, resulting in two doubles in five plate appearances for the fortunate Nationals.
Both sides present strong arguments, but if I were Sandy Alderson, in regards to the original question, I would side with trading Bobby Parnell at the deadline. If this were the beginning of the season, I would have gone with keeping Parnell, but that was back when the Mets’ only significant holes seemed to be in the outfield and the bullpen. Now with the future at first base and shortstop in question, the return for shipping off Parnell and a top starting pitching prospect could be too big to pass up. More than that, though, it ultimately comes down to the fact that I don’t trust Bobby Parnell to close games.
Cases in point, let’s take a look at the Mets’ recent ninth-inning comeback over the Yankees and the Nationals’ ninth-inning rally from three days ago. When Mariano Rivera blew the save, everyone was surprised, and when Bobby Parnell blew the save, no one was surprised. Granted, there will likely never be another closer as lockdown as Rivera, but the basic principle is universal across the major leagues: teams with reliable closers don’t expect to lose leads in the ninth inning. When Parnell pitches with a lead in the ninth inning, I don’t often enough expect the Mets to keep the lead. If Sandy Alderson feels the same way, his choice is an obvious one.
Bobby Parnell has had a very good season thus far, and if he keeps it up, he has an outside chance of representing the home team in next month’s All-Star Game. After the three day break, though, he should buy a new set of luggage in preparation for his departure from Queens.
Commentary from Danny Abriano:
Good Piece, Will. I don’t think it’s crazy to think about parting ways with Parnell in the right deal, but there’s no way I would consider dealing him just for the sake of it. While it’s highly unlikely that the Mets will contend this year, they have every chance of being able to compete as early as next season.
Before his first true poor game of the season a few nights ago in Washington, Parnell had been as close to automatic as I’ve seen a Mets closer be in an extremely long time. As you pointed out, his two blown saves prior to Tuesday night were due to defensive miscues behind him, not a failure to perform. Was it a bit troubling to see Parnell stray away from his knuckle curve during his blown save against Washington? Of course. But one poor game shouldn’t erase what has been a tremendous season from Parnell, and it certainly shouldn’t change our long-term view of his potential.
In the 24.1 innings he pitched before his blown save against Washington, the only runs Parnell had given up all season came in three games (April 13th in frigid Minnesota, April 19th in Miami when his defense failed him, and May 22nd against Cincinnati when Ike Davis allowed two runs to score when he failed to field a grounder because he thought it was going foul). Overall, Parnell has 23 strikeouts and 1.01 WHIP. When he’s entered in a save situation this season, I’ve considered the game as good as over.
When you take a few other factors into account, trading Parnell becomes even more dicey. For one, with the injury to Jeurys Familia, the Mets have no one in house who can potentially step in for Parnell in 2014 (and Familia was a long shot to grow into that role quickly anyway). Second, the Mets have money to spend after the season, but that money should be devoted mainly to outfielders. Basically, I see Parnell as a cost controlled, above average (at worst) closer, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. If there’s a team who wants Parnell as one of the headliners as part of a package for a young, impact outfielder, go for it. If not, he should be kept.