For the Mets to actually contend in the National League, they're going to need a decent bullpen. The 5 NL teams to make the playoffs this season ranked 1st (Atlanta), 2nd (Pittsburgh), 7th (Cincinnati), 12th (St. Louis), and 13th (Los Angeles) in MLB bullpen ERA. Most of these bullpens also struck out hitters at a high rate, something the Mets didn't do this season. In fact, the Mets were dead last in MLB in bullpen 6.96 strikeouts per nine innings.
Who was first? The Kansas City Royals, a team whose trajectory is fairly similar to the current Mets. Kansas City was finally in contention after ten years of misery, and holding its leads was instrumental to their success. The Royals bullpen and offense was almost completely homegrown, too. They upgraded their starting pitching this year with a trade for James Shields but have generally built the rest of the team by developing prospects.
On offense, the Mets don't have to do this as much as a small-market team like Kansas City. They have the money to sign an impact offensive player and the prospects to trade for one. What the Mets do not have is enough money to fix the offense and spend on a closer. The last time New York tried to sign a closer, we had to spend nearly a full season watching Frank Francisco do Frank Francisco things, which made me sad. Bobby Parnell is homegrown but could potentially be worth more to the team as a trade chip.
Much like the Royals' crew of Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and closer Greg Holland, the Mets are starting to develop bullpen talent. In 2014, other than Vic Black and possibly LaTroy Hawkins, the rest of the Mets' bullpen could consist of players the team drafted or signed as international free agents: Parnell, Josh Edgin, Gonzalez Germen, Jeurys Familia, and my pick for the team's next closer: Jack Leathersich.
Jeffrey Paternosto has a full breakdown of his thoughts on Leathersich from a few days ago if you aren't familiar with the Leather Rocket. Jeff projects him out to be a middle reliever, which is perfectly reasonable. I think Leathersich should be the closer because sometimes it's fun being ridiculous.
He hasn't had a chance to close in the minors yet, but he definitely has the stuff. The ball comes out of his hand deceptively fast, much like the effect that Craig Kimbrel has when he pitches. In the video below (start at 2:07), you can see that his breaking ball needs work, but when he hits his release point, his breaking ball is definitely a workable pitch. If you watch the next pitch, therein lies the problem – Leathersich has a chance to finish this at-bat, but can't because he misses his release point. I do think these are all fixable things.
Yes, his 7.76 ERA in Triple-A this year was terrible. Yes, he gave up hits and walks at a scary rate (1.76 WHIP), but I think the hits are mainly because of the walks. When a pitcher doesn't trust himself to throw strikes on the corners, he'll just try to throw any strike, and those types of pitches tend to get hit by professionals. His strikeout rate stayed true, and he struck out 14.6 hitters per nine in Las Vegas. He's not a project, he's just a guy that needs a bit of refinement. He should start next season in Triple-A, but the Mets should unleash him to the majors before the All-Star break, and try to give him 30 or more appearances against MLB hitters.
Gonzalez Germen is similar to Leathersich in that gaining control of his secondary pitches could make him a very good reliever. He and Vic Black could be the future 7th and 8th inning guys, with Josh Edgin and Jeff Walters pitching in lesser roles.
The Mets are close to filling their bullpen with developed prospects, not filling it with non-roster invitees like they have the last few seasons. Kansas City and Atlanta are very good examples of teams that do a good job developing talent. One of those teams just won the NL East, and the other one had the type of season the Mets could have next year. The Mets are starting to recognize how important bullpen development is, now that they have less of an ability to blow money on a closer like they had in years past.
By saving money and using the young, homegrown guys, the Mets can spend it on positions that don't have the major league-ready prospects.