11:27 am Dec. 19, 2012
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson may joke about the Mets' outfield needs, and he may be right.
But it's worth remembering that the single biggest problem on last year's Mets team was the bullpen. And not a whole lot is changing in that department.
Alderson, on WFAN Tuesday, seemed to indicate that he'll be looking at primarily the options already on hand to put together his 2013 bullpen, limited by a free-agent budget set at the impractically low level of $7 million.
A few hours later it become clear that even that in-house talent pool is shrinking, when the Mets announced that Frank Francisco, the closer who signed a two-year, $12 million contract last winter and posted a disastrous 2012, had surgery to remove a bone spur.
Last season, the Mets ranked 29th in the major leagues in bullpen E.R.A., with a 4.65 mark that just barely beat out Milwaukee's 4.66 to avoid being the worst in baseball.
The current pecking order in the Mets' bullpen, from best to worst, goes something like this:
Bobby Parnell was the team's best relief option last season, and remains so heading into this one. To put the distance between Parnell and the rest of the relievers into perspective, Parnell's E.R.A.+ was 155; the next-best mark was Jon Rauch's 108, and Rauch isn't expected to be retained due to his cost. (Also: Parnell throws really hard.)
No one else was at even league average E.R.A.+ last season, and the next two ranking members of the bullpen were Ramon Ramirez at 91 and Tim Byrdak at 88. But Ramirez is a free agent, not expected back, while Byrdak had shoulder surgery that is expected to sideline him for much of the 2013 season.
So who else returns from last season? There's Josh Edgin (85 E.R.A.+ in 2012), who was impressive in many of his 25 2/3 innings in the major league after a meteoric rise from single-A ball. Exactly what he can be is unclear, though his struggles against righties at each level make him a lefty specialist, in all likelihood.
There's Robert Carson, who pitched reasonably well at Double-A and Triple-A, but struck out just five in 13 1/3 major league innings last season. Carson's results have also been significantly better against lefties, suggesting that he'smostly lefty-specialist insurance for Edgin.
Then there's Jenrry Mejia, who the Mets say will be used in the rotation to replace R.A. Dickey, though if he struggles there, he could become a bullpen option.
There's also Jeurys Familia, a tremendous arm who walked nine in his first 12 1/3 major league innings last year, and had a 4.8 per nine walk rate for Triple-A Buffalo. Familia's control could make him a disaster if it hasn't improved.
The same is true of Elvin Ramirez, who you might remember as the guy who walked 20 in 21 1/3 innings last season.
Rounding out the group on hand is Darin Gorski, a minor league starter who likely profiles as, yes, another lefty specialist, Collin McHugh, a minor league starter who got knocked around in 21 1/3 major league innings last season, and Jeremy Hefner, who had an E.R.A.+ of 76 last season as a swingman, and is probably going to be needed at the back end of the rotation at some point.
Greg Burke, a minor league free agent pickup who played in the Baltimore organization in 2012 and last pitched in the major leagues in 2009, looks like a promising project. He also could be the second-best reliever on the 2013 Mets roster right now, depending on whether Francisco can return healthy, and improve upon his E.R.A.+ of 70 in 2012.
Alderson probably doesn't have any other options, given the amount of money he has to spend. Free-agent contracts for relievers, particularly long-term ones, are often more expensive than they ought to be. Teams who develop strong bullpens usually do it internally.
The Mets haven't done so. And that's going to become clear, with gruesome regularity, when this 2013 Mets team calls for relief.