With all the hoopla surrounding free agent acquisitions, the Winter Meetings, screams to improve shortstop, and potential trades regarding first base, the condition of the Mets bullpen has gotten little attention lately.
Mets closer Bobby Parnell underwent surgery in September to repair a herniated disk in his neck. What a shame he sustained such an injury during his break-out season, in which Bobby nailed down the closers job hands down. For the moment, it is hard to predict how much of the effectiveness Parnell displayed in 2013 he’ll be able to recapture, or how soon.
Parnell made 49 appearances last season, and posted a 5-5 record, with 22 saves, and a 2.16 ERA. In 50 innings pitched, he struck out 44 batters, allowed only 38 hits, one home run, and walked 12 while compiling a 1.00 WHIP. He threw his last pitch of the season on July 30th.
Early next week, Parnell is due in California for a check-up. With the doctor’s approval, the Mets hope Parnell can resume baseball activities. Since the operation, Terry Collins expressed his concern regarding the considerable amount of weight lost by his reliever, and would ideally like to see Bobby in camp by January. That, however, is purely speculative until he receives official medical clearance.
Bobby Parnell is still arbitration eligible this coming season and next. His first shot at free agency rolls around in 2016. As such, the Mets are now entering that period where a decision must be contemplated with regards to Parnell’s future. Do they wait, and allow him to arrive at free agency, or if a deal can be struck, do the Mets extend him an early-bird offer as they did with Jose Reyes, David Wright, and most recently Jonathon Niese, thereby delaying his free agency by a few years? Or, should the club consider trading him? These questions stem merely from the natural condition of service time, nothing more. Of course, his health will dictate much.
Despite Bobby Parnell’s particular situation, and the departure of LaTroy Hawkins, I feel the rest of the bullpen already looks more promising than it has in a few years. Anything Sandy Alderson accomplishes between now and Spring Training will only add to the quality and depth I believe they currently possess.
Acquired last season, along with infielder Dilson Herrera, to complete the transaction that sent catcher John Buck and Marlon Byrd to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Vic Black has already become indispensable. In 15 appearances, he posted a 3-0 record with one save, and a 3.46 ERA. In 13 innings pitched, he struck out 12 batters, allowed 11 hits, and walked 4, for a 1.154 WHiP.
With a healthy arm, Jeurys Familia is finally expected to stick with the big club and establish himself. He continued his post-elbow surgery activities by participating in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. The results were mixed. His velocity remained on point, as he struck out 12 batters in 10.2 innings of work. However, he allowed 14 hits and 8 earned runs in posting a 6.75 ERA, and walked 4, to give him a 1.88 WHiP. For good measure, he also unleashed 5 wild pitches.
Jeurys now has 17 major league appearances over the last two seasons. In 23 innings, he has allowed 22 hits, and owns a 5.09 ERA. He has equally walked, and fanned 18 batters, with a 1.739 WHiP. Familia additionally only totaled eight minor league games last season. His last complete season came in 2012 for the AAA-Buffalo Bisons, in which he posted a 9-9 record, with a 4.73 ERA. In 137 innings pitched, he struck out 128 batters, but allowed 145 hits and walked 73, for a 1.591 WHiP. Afterwards, the decision was made to convert Familia into a reliever. Jeurys clearly needs to improve his control, but Mets fans remain very high on his ability.
Making his MLB debut, Gonzalez Germen, 26, put in commendable work last year. In 29 relief appearances, and 34.1 innings pitched, Germen posted a 3.93 ERA, struck out 33 batters, but issued 16 walks and allowed 32 hits for a 1.398 WHiP. His control issues stand a very good chance of improving however. Over a six year minor league career, and 515.1 innings pitched, Gonzalez owns a 2.1 W/9 average.
I’m especially excited to hear minor leaguers Jeff Walters and Cory Mazzoni are potentially in the mix. I was hoping Jeff Walters, 26, would remain a well kept secret, but his 2013 performance put him on the radar. In his first season playing for AA-Binghamton, Walters appeared in 53 games, and posted a 4-3 record, with a 2.09 ERA, and earned a league leading 38 saves. In 56 innings pitched, he allowed 46 hits, just 2 home runs, and walked 16, for a 1.107 WHiP. Jeff struck out 60 batters, for a 9.6 K/9 average.
I do not care to understand why there is a relative disinterest throughout baseball with older minor league prospects. The Mets have a few, namely Allan Dykstra, 26, and Dustin Lawley, 24, whom I feel Sandy Alderson has little interest in. And unless I’m reading the tea leaves wrong, Jeff Walters, who played last season at age 25, is getting the same treatment. Why else would Sandy Alderson talk up Walter’s potential during the Winter Meetings, unless he planned on maximizing the closer’s potential trade value or gauging interest. At the same time, Walters would be a fine acquisition for a receiving team, assuming the deal is right for the Mets. He could conceivably be included in a package deal of considerable impact.
Otherwise, look no further than down I-95 in Philadelphia, where the Phillies achieved great success with a core of older prospects. Ryan Howard was two months short of his 25th birthday in his rookie season. Although Cliff Lee was acquired, he and Chase Utley were both 24 when they made their debut as well. Free agent Nelson Cruz was 25 years old. Since Jeff Walters is a closer, I’ll reference Joe Nathan who also made his debut at 24-years old.
Right-hander Cory Mazzoni turned 24-years old this past October. He is another former starter being converted into a relief pitcher. Over three minor league seasons, he owns a career 3.91 ERA in 223.1 total innings pitched. He has allowed only slightly more hits than innings pitched. Otherwise, he owns a career 2.3 W/9 and a 7.9 K/9 average. Last season was his second tour at Binghamton. He posted a 5-3 record, with a 4.36 ERA. In 66 innings pitched, he fanned 74 batters, but allowed 70 hits and 19 walks for a 1.348 WHiP.
Left-hander Josh Edgin, who by the way, didn’t make his MLB debut until age 25, figures to rejoin the mix. Josh began the season in Flushing, and made 11 appearances. When his ERA ballooned to 9.64 after just 9.1 innings pitched, he was demoted to AAA-Las Vegas.
Josh was recalled in June, and pitched extremely well over his next 23 appearances, right up until he was placed on the disabled list with a fractured rib in August. In 19.1 innings pitched during June and July, Edgin only allowed a pair of runs, for an 0.93 ERA. He allowed 13 hits, walked 8, and fanned 10 batters. Overall, he posted a 3.77 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched, with a 1.326 WHiP. His mid-90’s fast ball and being a left-hander makes him a valuable, if not an indispensable commodity for the Mets.
Roughly five or six more slots remain open for competition and/or acquisition.
As another left-hander, Scott Rice looks to have the inside track at making the bullpen unless something else transpires. After a long 14 year minor league career, which included stints playing independent baseball, Rice finally made his MLB debut with the Mets last season. In 805 career minor league innings pitched, he owns a career 4.08 ERA. In 2013, he posted a 3.71 ERA in 51 innings pitched. He fanned 41, allowed 42 hits, and walked 27, for a 1.353 WHiP.
For the moment, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and recently acquired Bartolo Colon, comprise the front four of the rotation. That leaves the roles of Carlos Torres and Jenrry Mejia in a questionable state, with Mejia most likely getting the first nod to start.
The Mets have reportedly expressed interest in free agent relief pitchers Chris Perez and Mitchell Boggs. A right-hander, Perez, 28, spent the last five seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and the last four seasons closing games. Over those four years, he earned 123 saves, for an average of 30 per year. Over the same time, Perez logged 234.1 innings, with a 3.19 ERA. Last season, he had an equal 54 strikeouts to 54 innings pitched, but ended the season with a 4.38 ERA.
Another right-hander, Mitchell Boggs, 29, strikes me as a questionable option. If the Cardinals didn’t want him, that’s good enough for me.
Pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan and Joe Nathan are now signed and off the market. Many of the remaining free agent relievers are just a bunch of lingering old guys. The average age of Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Scott Downs, Joaquin Benoit, Chad Qualls, Scott Atchison, Jamey Wright, and Luis Ayala is 37-years old.
Left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, 28, is someone who piques my interest. He spent the last five seasons with the Braves. Last May, he was placed on the disabled list with a torn ACL. It might be worth signing O’Flaherty just to get him in the Mets fold for future use in 2015. In 19 games last season, he pitched 18 innings, and posted a 2.50 ERA. He fanned 12, allowed 12 hits, and walked 5, for a fine 0.944 WHiP.
Left-hander Wesley Wright, 28, is another young relief pitcher on my radar. Originally a Houston Astros product, he was granted his free agency by the Tampa Bay Rays, and is arbitration eligible for two more years. He will be free agent eligible in 2016. Last year, he split the season between Houston and ended with Tampa. He appeared in 16 games for the Rays, and in 12.1 innings pitched, fanned 15 batters, allowed 9 hits, walked 3, for a 0.973 WHiP, while posting a 2.50 ERA. For Houston, he made 54 appearances, pitched 41.1 innings, and posted a 3.92 ERA. He allowed 45 hits and walked 16, for a 1.476 WHiP.
John Axford, 30, is a third pitcher on my list. Between 2010 and 2012, he saved 105 games for the Brewers. In 75 games split between Milwaukee and St. Louis last season, he did not record a save, but pitched 65 innings, and fanned 65 batters. He allowed 73 hits, and walked 26, while posting a 4.02 ERA.
Having said all this, nothing would benefit the Mets more than a return to full health by Bobby Parnell.