Many stones were cast at last year's bullpen for the Mets' failure to reach the postseason, especially as the Phillies rode a terrific group of relievers all the way to a World Series title. Omar Minaya went to great lengths this offseason to address what most considered the team's biggest weakness, and much e-ink has been devoted to the acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, whose spots in the bullpen were never up for discussion.
In discussing the Mets' 2009 bullpen, let's assume that the Mets will carry seven relievers to start the season, which may or may not include a long man. Tim Redding will start the season on the disabled list, so unless the Mets acquiesce and just sign Pedro Martinez they're probably looking at either Jon Niese, Livan Hernandez, or, less likely, Freddy Garcia, as the fifth starter. Smart money is on Hernandez making the team, Niese packing his bags for Triple-A Buffalo and Garcia thumbing it to parts unknown. With numerous off-days in the early going, Hernandez could fill the dual role of fifth starter/long man for at least the first two or three weeks of the season, giving Jerry Manual the seven regular relievers I promised.
Sam was kind enough to spin some write-ups for the non-Frank, non-Putz relief arms that are likely to head north with the Mets.
Feliciano's ERA has risen almost exactly one point every year, but don't pencil him in for 5.05 yet. Although 2006 seems to be a genuine career year, his 2008 wasn't very different from 2007. His peripherals, demonstrating good strikeout ability and below-average control, remained mostly stable. Feliciano let up several homers and had the worst luck with balls-in-play for his entire career. Expect both of those factors to normalize in 2009, and some better numbers as a result. He also demonstrated the worst LOOGY tendencies of his career, which may have something to do with Jerry Manuel's insistence to treat him as one.
According to most people's math Sean Green=Joe Smith and Jeremy Reed=Endy Chavez, but it turns out neither of those statements are true. In fact, according to FanGraphs' WAR data, Green was worth 1 Win in 2008, while Smith accounted for just .3. Green's 4.67 ERA was deceptive, as he suffered from a combination of bad luck and bad defense (namely that of Yuniesky Betancourt). He's gets tons of groundballs (63.3% last year) and should be Manuel's situational righty of choice.
A Rule 5 pick from Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, O'Day may have been a big reason why the Mets were willing to part with Joe Smith. O'Day shares Smith's sidearm delivery, and as a result his groundball-tendencies and righty platoon split. His split isn't bad, however, so it's probably too early to start calling him the Mets' ROOGY. The Mets problem last year, after all, wasn't just too many specialists, it was too many bad specialists.
Brian, the 152nd best Tampa Bay Ray ever, joined the Mets AAA squad as a starter last year and pitched pretty well. He posted a 3.54 FIP as a starter in AAA and a 4.24 FIP in the bigs as a reliever. If he can keep his K/9 north of 7, he'll be in pretty good shape. It's possible too, as he has a pretty live fastball. If not, he's a serviceable long-man and a better weakest link than Schoeneweis.
Nothing from his minor league numbers really jumps out, but there were some genuine bright spots. Beginning at A+ St. Lucie in 2007, a 22-year-old Parnell posted 62/22 K/BB ration in 55 with a god-like 64% ground-ball ratio. Similarly, after a disappointing stint in AA last year, he produced a 10.18 K/9 and a 46% GB rate in 20 AAA innings. Scouts rave about his great stuff, with a fastball that dials in the mid-90s and a good slider. Coming out of the bullpen might allow Parnell to crank that fastball up into the high-90s with some regularity. Throw in his new splitter, and Parnell has late-inning reliever potential.
I'll add one other name to the list, albeit reluctantly:
Villone might be attractive to the Mets as another left-handed option in the middle innings, but it's odd that he only has two innings of work this spring, low even considering his late signing. Villone also has a career ERA+ of 96, much of which was accrued as a reliever. He doesn't have great strikeout numbers nor does he have great control. He isn't anything special at keeping the ball in the park, either. Why he continues to be interesting to anyone is a mystery to me, and why -- besides money -- the Mets would even consider adding him to the big league roster when better options -- not great, but better -- like Will Ohman and Joe Beimel are still out there is likewise baffling.
One or two names might drop off this list if the Mets decide to carry two of Hernandez, Garcia and Niese on Opening Day, though I'd consider that possibility a longshot at best. If the back five turn out to be Feliciano, Green, O'Day, Stokes and Parnell, I'd have to concede that the Mets did a pretty good job developing this year's bullpen in light of the fiery wreckage that was last year's model. Things could still change in the next three weeks, but I'm happy with the way things look right now.