Mets' battered bullpen is bound to improve

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

Sandy Alderson hasn't had success building a pen through free agency, but what's brewing in the minors is intriguing.

In case you didn't notice, the Mets' bullpen was really, really bad on Monday. Tasked with protecting a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh inning on Opening Day, Carlos Torres and Scott Rice teamed up to walk in the tying run. After Jose Valverde served as a surprisingly effective stopgap and the Mets got back on top with a Juan Lagares home run, it was Bobby Parnell's turn to disappoint.

Despite the fact that he was likely pitching with torn ligaments in his arm, Parnell was one strike away from winning the game for the Mets. Danny Espinosa was down to his last strike with two outs in the ninth, but he fought back to draw a walk. With Parnell's fastball clearly not at its normal effectiveness, Denard Span stepped up to the plate and ripped a double to left-center field to tie the game.

Even before Jeurys Familia gave up four runs in the 10th inning, it was a very bad day for the Mets' bullpen. Unfortunately, these bad days have become a common occurrence for the Amazins over the last three years. Marc Carig points that out in a recent Newsday article.

It hadn't always been that way. In 2010, the final season before Alderson's arrival as GM, Mets relievers ranked a respectable 5th in the National League with a 3.59 ERA.

But from 2011-13, the Mets have plummeted, posting a 4.31 ERA. It's the second-highest mark in baseball. In every year of that woeful span, the Mets have languished near the bottom of the league.

Ninety wins? No way. Not with this bullpen. But so far, Alderson & Co. have proven incapable of stopping the slide.

There have been quite a few rotten free agent signings under Alderson's watch as he has tried to build a bullpen on the cheap. Frank Francisco? Gross. D.J. Carrasco? Yuck. The Ramon Ramirez trade that also included Andres Torres? Vomit-inducing. The Jon Rauch deal looks splendid by comparison.

The good news, as Carig also fairly notes, is that the pieces to a successful bullpen are slowly making their way to the major leagues. There is a surplus of quality arms in the Mets' farm system, and not all of them can fit into the 2015 or 2016 rotation. With Familia and Gonzalez Germen being the only healthy homegrown players in the current bullpen, there is plenty of room for improvement.

In a couple of years, we could be looking at a fully loaded unit that includes prospects like Cory Mazzoni, Jake deGrom, Vic Black, and Jack Leathersich. These are all players who are a year or two away from the majors who could serve as solid, affordable bullpen arms. It wouldn't be surprising if one of them was the Mets' next closer.

So yes, the bullpen doesn't look good right now (although one awful day doesn't guarantee that the pen will be horrible all season), but the rotation isn't the only spot where Alderson has been building for the future. New York's relief pitching has just as much upside when you consider who is coming up through the minor league system.

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