11.24.08

Shpigel : Mets’ Pen Needs Far More Than A New Closer

Posted in Baseball at 7:09 am by

While the New York Mets have been linked to relievers including but not limited to K-Rod, Brian Fuentes (above), Trevor Hoffman, J.J. Putz and Rod Beck Kerry Wood over the past few days  The New York Times’ Ben Shpigel reminds us, “they have yet to aggressively address the other bullpen problems that led to them missing the playoffs.”

Some team officials have linked the bullpen™s troubles to Billy Wagner™s injury and suggested their other relievers will rebound once they return to more familiar, less prominent roles next season. But a statistical breakdown suggests otherwise, showing that losing Wagner merely magnified the bullpen™s weaknesses and that more of the same can be expected if last year™s corps remains intact.

œYou might fix the ninth inning, but that™s just one inning, said Keith Law, a baseball writer for ESPN.com who was formerly a special assistant to the Blue Jays™ general manager, J. P. Ricciardi. œAny plan that assumes if you put Aaron Heilman back into his eighth-inning role and everything else will be O.K. is unreasonable.

œIf not having Wagner was the entire problem, then they could have gone to every reliever on Aug. 3 and said, ˜Here are your new roles,™ and they would have had eight weeks to get used to the new roles.

Whether the Mets will rid themselves of the primary culprits of their bullpen meltdown remains unclear. For now, they are focusing on identifying their ninth-inning solution, with plans to tinker afterward. The Mets are interested in the free-agent closers Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodríguez ” whose medical records they are reviewing ” and J. J. Putz of Seattle, should he become available via trade.

The Mets are in the market for versatile relievers who can pitch multiple innings and retire left-handed and right-handed hitters. Such relievers are uncommon, not to mention costly, and the Mets have shown no evidence so far that they will pursue any of the reasonably attractive second-tier free-agent relievers who could slide into those roles.

The prior approach has entailed trading for raw or undervalued relievers, adding depth by signing pitchers to minor league contracts and relying heavily on a scouting staff for recommendations on potential bargains among unsigned pitchers. Over the years, that template has been successful. It is how the Mets acquired Duaner Sánchez, Pedro Feliciano, Brian Stokes, Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford. But there is an inherent risk that bargain-basement pitchers will not pitch well. And there is little reason to believe Mets fans will tolerate bullpen blowups at Citi Field, especially when they recall how Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, Sánchez and friends lost leads.

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