The Mets' bullpen garnered a fair amount of attention this winter, particularly early in the offseason. When Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi left the team for greener American League pastures, the Mets looked mighty thin in the bullpen, particularly when it came to lefties. In the months since then, Sandy Alderson and company have brought in a slew of arms to revamp the pen. Assuming the Mets open the season with seven pitchers in the bullpen, just who will be tucked away behind Citi Field's right-center field fence?
The Sure Things
First things first, Francisco Rodriguez will return to the bullpen as the team's closer. Aside from his personal issues off the field, Rodriguez pitched quite well when he played last year, posting his best ERA/FIP/xFIP combo since 2006. His insanely overpriced vesting option looms, however, and it will be interesting to see if the Mets take Eno's advice to avoid having a $17.5 million relief pitcher with declining velocity in 2012.
Unlike last year, Bobby Parnell doesn't have any worries about making the Opening Day roster as Terry Collins has anointed him the team's setup man. His 2009 numbers were wrecked when the Mets experimented with him as a starting pitcher, but his stats while pitching in relief went from pretty good in 2009 to very good in 2010. Parnell still hasn't established himself for a long enough period of time to avoid a trip to Buffalo if things go awry, but it would take a major step back for him to end up back in the minors.
Like Parnell, D.J. Carrasco has been pre-assigned a role in the bullpen: the setup man to the setup man. As Eric pointed out when he was signed, D.J. has been an above-average, if unspectacular, relief pitcher for the past several seasons. Like Parnell and Rodriguez, Carrasco is right-handed.
If the Mets only include on left-handed reliever on their roster, they'll have space for three more pitchers. If Taylor Buchholz simply shows his arm is healthy enough for regular season duty, he should make the squad out of camp. Whether or not he'll be able to regain his 2008 form remains to be seen, but even if he doesn't get back to that level he should be a serviceable pitcher.
That leaves two more spots for Manny Acosta, Manuel Alvarez, Pedro Beato, and Blaine Boyer. Beato might have a leg up on one spot since he was a Rule 5 pick and needs to be in the majors in order to remain with the organization. He hasn't pitched above AA, but he did fare well last year. On paper, Alvarez looks like Beato but better: he was old for the levels at which he played in 2010, but he absolutely dominated and posted excellent strikeout and walk rates. Acosta walks too many opposing batters, but he's struck them out enough to remain an adequate middle relief guy. There's nothing flashy about Boyer, but his one asset is the ability to induce groundballs. The Mets could reasonably choose any two of the four pitchers.
If these are the pitchers the Mets choose, there's not a pitcher who fits the 2006 Darren Oliver or 2010 Hisanori Takahashi mold, but if the Mets felt the need to have such a pitcher, they could drop one from the Acosta group and choose to use someone like Pat Misch instead.
Given the crop of left-handed pitchers competing for the bullpen, there's a good chance only one of them will make the bullpen. Tim Byrdak, Mike O'Connor, and Taylor Tankersley figure to compete for the role of lefty specialist. Byrdak is the oldest and has the most major league experience of the bunch, but any of them would most likely be used strictly against left-handed hitters.
There's also an outside shot that the Mets will turn to one of Chris Capuano, Pat Misch, or Oliver Perez as their lefty in the pen. Capuano should be in the rotation, but his contract does provide for incentives if he winds up in the bullpen, something which may occur as he's still recovering from Tommy John surgery. The team is probably better served sending Misch to Buffalo as depth for its starting rotation. Perez has been granted his wish to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, but when he fails, there may be a sliver of hope that he winds up as the team's sole left-handed reliever if Capuano is in the rotation and the other four pitchers either get hurt or look horrendous.
The Long Shots
As much as the return of Jason Isringhausen to the Mets would be a feel-good story, it seems incredibly unlikely that he'll demonstrate enough in Spring Training to make the team. If he appears to be capable in Buffalo, perhaps he'll get a call-up when someone else inevitably falters or gets hurt.
After he was designated for assignment earlier this winter and passed through waivers without another team putting in a claim, Ryota Igarashi isn't making the team. He'll start camp with the big league team but needs to address his major control issues from 2010 in the minors before he'll have another shot at joining the Mets.
A host of other pitchers don't figure to make the team but will provide depth in the minors: Tobi Stoner, Boof Bonser, Josh Stinson, John Lujan, Jose De La Torre and Armando Rodriguez. That's not to say none of them will see any time with the Mets this year, but there are so many other arms in the bullpen who stand a better shot at making the team.
If you like your bullpen in list form, here's an approximation of who might be in the bullpen on Opening Day:
- Francisco Rodriguez
- Bobby Parnell
- D.J. Carrasco
- Taylor Buchholz