Mets closer Bobby Parnell looks like the real thing

Bobby Parnell. ()
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The Mets will honor Mariano Rivera Tuesday night at Citi Field in the great Yankee closer's last season.

Monday night, the Mets deployed Bobby Parnell, who might just become the best closer in New York once Rivera finally quits.

Parnell recorded the final three outs Monday night in a tense 2-1 Mets victory at Citi Field, giving Mets fans some rare bragging rights for an evening, and letting a wider audience see the development of Parnell, though nowhere close to Rivera, as a first-rate late-inning option.

Parnell has a widely unjustified reputation as unduly wild and unreliable, one that dates back to his prior effort to pair his plus fastball with a slider and occasional changeup. That Parnell walked four per nine innings, with a good, but not great, ground ball rate. The strikeouts, a solid 8.3 per nine, weren't enough by themselves to make him more than intermittently effective.

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But Parnell totally changed his approach heading into 2012, ditching the slider and changeup for a knuckle curve that he commanded better than either, and that offered a significantly better velocity differential from his fastball than his slider did.

The results are uniformly positive. The strikeouts stayed relatively constant, at 8.1 per nine. Meanwhile, Parnell's groundball rates inproved significantly, to tenth in baseball last season among all relievers, 18th so far this season. And the walks went down to 2.6 per nine since the start of 2012.

This doesn't make Parnell into Rivera. It does, however, make him a credible closer. And it will make him, sad to say, an extremely valuable trade chip this summer.

So the Mets will face a referendum on where they are as a franchise with Parnell. They control Parnell's rights for another two seasons, though he'll be in arbitration both winters, and if his season unfolds as it has so far, he'll make significantly more than the $1.7 million he's getting this season.

The Mets could deal Parnell to a contender, and almost certainly receive a prospect or two they can expect to contribute once Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero and whoever else can come up from the group of prospects they have a Single-A can come together. 

Then again, waiting for that group to come together might mean punting all of what is likely the prime remaining years of David Wright, the team's highest-paid and best position player. 

Keeping Parnell around to buttress Wright means an attempt to win sooner. But even if Wheeler came up and immediately contributed, and Travis d'Arnaud, still recovering from a fractured foot, also came up and assumed the regular catching job, would that be enough to make this Mets team into a contender? Unlikely.

The best of both worlds is probably a mutually beneficial deal to buy out Parnell's two remaining arbitration years along with a free agent year or two, in a cost-controlled three-year or four-year contract extension, locking in a bullpen piece for his remaining peak years. If the plan isn't to contend within the next four years, it isn't any kind of plan at all. By then, Matt Harvey will be closing in on free agency. 

That, alas, requires the kind of financial outlay that has been beyond the Mets of late (unless Parnell is willing to defer as much money as David Wright), due to ownership's awful finances.

The Mets keep insisting they'll be aggressive in going after an outfielder, or even two. They can start their long-discussed but unfulfilled spending spree by shoring up the bullpen here at home, and they don't need another team or to wait until the offseason to do it.

How the Mets handle Parnell this summer will be an indicator of both what they can do as an organization and where they think they are.

In the meantime, the Mets have themselves a closer.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

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Mark Teixeira will be rehabbing in Trenton Wednesday and Thursday.

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Despite past controversies, Rutgers is backing new athletic director hire Julie Herrmann.