We’ll go position-by-position, looking largely at the players most likely to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster, and perhaps some of those likely to contribute later on in the season. In part eight of the series, we’ll take a look at the bullpen.
Opening Day Closer: Bobby Parnell
Opening Day Rotation: Jose Valverde (Setup Man), Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, John Lannan, Scott Rice (Lefty Specialist), Carlos Torres (Long Man)
Looking to the Future: Jack Leathersich, Vic Black
If you think you have a good handle on how good the Mets bullpen will be, well, you’re probably lying. There are question marks — if not major concerns — with every single one of these players. A brief run-through:
Parnell – Return from neck surgery
Valverde – Bad 2013, spent time in Triple-A
Jeurys Familia – Must cut down on walks (7 BB/9 in brief MLB career)
Germen – Got hit hard in September, did he wear down, or was he pitching over his head?
Lannan – Has never pitched out of the bullpen before, can he do it?
Rice – Appeared in 73 games by early September, then needed surgery. Can he recover?
Torres – Also struggled in September, with an ERA over 4.00 in 31 innings. Worn out or regression to the mean?
So, what will the Mets get from their bullpen? I’ll hedge my bet and say “something around the league average.” Bullpens are fickle. Relief pitchers, with the exception of top-level closers, are impossible to predict from year to year. The individual pitchers on this list are talented, and it wouldn’t take too much effort to envision a hypothetical situation in which the bullpen is successful. It’s also not difficult to imagine the Mets bullpen imploding like the 2007-2010 Mets bullpens.
There are some popular names in the upper levels of the farm system, notably Black and Leathersich. Black is a hard-throwing righty and Leathersich is a lefty who typically tops out in the low-to-mid 90s. The two should both start the year in Triple-A and could easily force their way up to the big league team. The two are likely to bring plenty of strikeouts with them, but must cut down on their high walk rates.
The Mets also have veteran Kyle Farnsworth in the minor leagues. While he didn’t look very good in Spring Training, they’ll consider him decent depth in case of injury.
My best guess is league average, though I’ll admit that “below average” is a safer bet than “above average.” There’s talent and plenty of hard throwers, but very little certainty. Even Parnell, who was a good closer in 2013, had been inconsistent from year-to-year before last season. If the bullpen performs, they could be holding onto plenty of leads — given the Mets relatively strong starting pitching. But that is a big “if.”
How Comfortable Should the Mets Be:
Well, on the one hand, the Mets should not be too confident about their bullpen of question marks. On the other hand, neither should any other MLB team.
The Mets bullpen is constructed in a sound way. A pair of lefties, a long reliever, a closer and setup man with experience and plenty of high-velocity arms. There’s depth in the minor leagues and likely clearly defined roles in the majors. And yet, there are so many questions that it would take someone blinded by fanhood to presume the Mets bullpen won’t cause agita this season. So, Mets fans, you’ll probably be biting your fingernails and sitting on the edge of your seat come the 8th and 9th innings of close games this year. But that may be better than in past years, when there was no nervousness, because you knew the Mets bullpen was going to blow it. In 2014, I expect far more people to ask on Twitter “will the Mets blow this lead?” and fewer people to ask “We KNOW the Mets will blow this lead, the question is how?”