It is true that the New York Mets have made strides in recent years to build up their roster through prospects, trades and free agency. However, one area that has not been addressed is the bullpen. Typically the bullpen is populated by journeymen veterans on one-year contracts, like Jon Rauch and LaTroy Hawkins, or by unproven and ineffective young arms, like Josh Edgin. In some cases, these moves may have been successful; however, in other cases, the pitcher just never worked out.
As clear as it is that the Mets believe that they can compete, until the bullpen is effective, they are not going to be able to take the next step and be a contender in a fairly top-heavy division.
So let’s take a look at how the bullpen currently stands.
The closer position may be the only one that will be consistent. Bobby Parnell pitched well as the closer last season and notched 22 saves. If he is able to come back from his offseason neck surgery, he should continue to be a solid presence at the back end of the bullpen.
However, other than Parnell, the rest of the bullpen positions are up in the air or filled with inconsistent pitchers. Scott Rice should be expected to be the left-handed specialist, a role he filled with moderate success in his rookie season last year. The problem is that Rice was a career minor leaguer before finally getting his shot last season and so is still an unproven commodity.
Reports have indicated that John Lannan would be willing to move to the bullpen if he does not win the job as the 5th starter. Lannan would provide a valuable second left-hander in the ‘pen. That said, Lannan has always been a starter, and moving into the bullpen is not always an easy transition. Additionally, there is a reason that Lannan has moved from one-time opening day starter for the Washington Nationals to competing just to make a major league squad. He has struggled to be consistent and healthy. With the injury to Jon Niese, it is possible for Lannan to then move to the rotation and for Jenrry Mejia to possibly have this bullpen spot. Mejia has experience as a reliever over the years but the Mets seem unsure about whether to make him a starter or reliever. More than anything, Mejia needs consistency. For that reason, Lannan is still the best bet for this bullpen spot.
From the right side, the options are even more limited. The possibilities for the remaining four spots are Jeurys Familia, Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Valverde, Carlos Torres, Gonzalez Germen and Vic Black. None of those names inspire much confidence.
Familia has been plagued with elbow issues throughout his early career, but many scouts insist that he still has the ability to be a solid reliever. Fanrsworth and Valverde are two veteran relievers signed to minor league contracts, and while they have had successes over the years, they have struggled in the twilight of their careers. Torres pitched well as a long reliever/spot starter last season and it is believed that his position is locked up for the upcoming season. As solid as Torres was, his use in games usually indicated a bad game where the starter did not last more than three or four innings or an injury. Neither are situations anyone wants to see with frequency. Torres could and probably should be used in a middle relief role. It allows him to get in more games and he can be a good bridge to the back end of the ‘pen. Germen saw some major league action but struggled at times and did not show that he could handle the big leagues yet. He has continued to struggle this spring. Vic Black was acquired in the trade for Marlon Byrd and pitched pretty well down the stretch. However, he is also a young unproven player but has shown promise at times and could be a set-up man or possible closer in the future. But that future is still a few years off as is shown by his up-and-down spring training.
If this group can get it together this season and hold leads late into games, then the sky is the limit for a team with a mixture of young talent and proven vets.
But until the bullpen proves that is it is capable, the Mets will never take the next step and be a playoff team because too many games will be lost in the late innings. It is these late game meltdowns that separate the good teams from the best teams, and in a top heavy division such as the National League East, the Mets are going to need every win they can get.