Mets Need To Develop Their Own Bullpen


It probably goes without saying that the Mets bullpen has been inconsistent at best so far this season-and there have been games like yesterday’s where it was downright awful.  The Amazins probably need to make some changes to their relief corps, but those changes might be a little further down the road.  Because just like it is best to develop a top flight rotation from the farm system, the same holds true for relievers.

Normally, it seems when a team drafts pitchers, they choose starters with the intent of finding a future ace or other quality members of the rotation.  When fans hear about a team’s top pitching prospects, they are usually starters because a quality starter is more difficult to find than a quality reliever.  Take a look at the Mets top pitching prospects: Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia are all starting pitchers (a couple of them might be moved, but more on that later).  As the Mets are trying to do, developing starting pitchers from within is a more cost-effective way to obtain quality results, as opposed to spending money on overpriced free agents.  The same principle holds true with relievers.

Think back: when was the last time the Mets produced a closer who was the product of their farm system?  This past offseason, they signed Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch.  In 2009, the Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three year deal.  Prior to the 2006 season, Omar Minaya inked Billy Wagner to a four year contract.  Before the ’04 season, the team signed Braden Looper.  Before that, the Amazins traded for Armando Benitez, and before that for John Franco.  The last Mets closer to begin the season that came from within the system was Jesse Orosco, and he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins (although the first big league team he pitched for was the Mets).  The point is, the Amazins have a history of trading for or spending money on closers (and other relievers) when it would be more beneficial to develop relievers in the farm system.  As an example, look no further than the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta’s bullpen features closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Jonny Venters, two outstanding relievers.  For this pair, the Braves are paying $1,123,000.  Looking around the league, other teams also benefit from relievers developed from within.  The Cardinals, for instance, are paying closer Jason Motte and the late inning Mitchell Boggs a combined $2,456,000.  And of course, over the years, the Oakland Athletics have made a habit of making closers within their system and then trading them later on.  Teams often have to fill in the pieces off their bullpen via free agents and trades, but certainly the big guns can come from the farm system.

One would expect Sandy Alderson to adhere to mantra, but he hasn’t yet had the opportunity.  The fact is, the Mets bullpen was in such a bad state this past offseason that a band-aid approach was necessary, hence the signings of Francisco (two years/$12 million) and Rauch (one year/$3.5 million), along with trading for Ramon Ramirez (one year/$2.65 million).  Francisco and Ramirez have disappointed, while Rauch, though effective, is probably overpaid.  The positive is that Rauch and Ramirez are free agents following this season while Francisco will be after 2013.  Then the Mets can start utilizing their farm system.

Yes, the Mets actually do have some intriguing relief prospects down the road, and it starts with Mejia.  Although he is currently starting in the minors, there is a strong possibility that he will ultimately wind up in the pen, maybe even as closer some day.  The same holds true for Familia.  At triple-A, there are relievers Elvin Ramirez (20012: 17.2 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 7 BB, 20 K)  and Josh Edgin (2012: 15 IP, 19 H, 9 ER, 8 BB, 16 K-he’s struggled since the promotion) with others, such as Jack Leathersich (2012 in Savannah: 21 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 8 BB, 31 K), further down the road, but who might develop quicker than starters because they don’t need as many pitches to succeed (or only need to get lefties out).  Then there are pitchers like Binghamton’s Collin McHugh (2012: 41.1 IP, 32 H, 11 ER, 14 BB, 36 K)-starting pitchers who could work out of the pen eventually if they can’t cut it in the rotation.

The point is, eventually the Mets bullpen could feature players from the farm system who will be making peanuts compared to relievers on the open market.  Currently, Bobby Parnell is the only guy in the pen to come up through the Mets system, and he has been more reliable than Francisco, Rauch or R. Ramirez (or Manny Acosta or D.J. Carrasco).  But in the next few years, Mejia could be the closer, E. Ramirez could be the setup man and Edgin/Leathersich could be lefty specialists.  Pure speculation, of course, but it’s very possible the Mets bullpen of the future could prominently feature several players making under one million dollars.

This past season, Alderson really didn’t have a choice but to make some stopgap moves to plug the leaky bullpen.  The younger players weren’t ready yet, and, keeping with the approach the front office has used involving the starting pitching prospects, nobody was going to move up the ladder too quickly.  For now, the Amazins are stuck with Francisco and company, but by it won’t be before long (maybe by the end of this season) there will be some homegrown arms in the bullpen.

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