The Mets bullpen is thinning and lacking experience

Michael Baron, Contributor

Terry Collins used six relief pitchers during Monday’s game. They allowed five earned runs, including two inherited runs from Dillon Gee in the seventh inning.

“We ran into some of that in spring training,” Collins said about his bullpen’s struggles. “If you’re going to pitch here, you’ve got to be able to throw strikes, and you can’t walk guys.”

Carlos Torres – who walked only 27 batters in 86 innings last year – never landed a strike against Nate McClouth, the only batter he faced.

“I was trying to overthrow the ball,” Torres said. “That’s why the ball was elevated, and I missed those spots.”

Scott Rice followed Torres and walked Denard Span on four pitches to allow the tying run to score. Rice walked just 10 left-handed hitters all of 2013.

“I just didn’t get the job done, hands down,” Rice said. “That’s the bottom line.”


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Jeurys Familia and John Lannan combined to allow four earned runs in the 10th inning. Lannan later said he expects to become more comfortable pitching in relief as the season moves on.

Bobby Parnell blew the save by allowing a game-tying double to Span in the ninth inning, moments after Juan Lagares gave the Mets the lead with a home run a half inning earlier. Unfortunately, the Mets lost Parnell to an elbow injury on Tuesday, which could require surgery.

The loss of Parnell leaves a gaping hole in the back-end of an already questionable bullpen. Jose Valverde will likely take over for Parnell as closer, which may be a good thing considering how he looked during camp and on Opening Day. The team spent much of the winter looking for fill-in closers in case Parnell hit a stumbling block, and it looks like they’ll be cashing in on that insurance with Valverde…

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Opinion: The second LH reliever, and what it means for the rotation

Michael Baron, Contributor

On Monday, the Mets optioned LHP Josh Edgin to minor league camp. Later in the day, Terry Collins told reporters LHP John Lannan will still work as a starting pitcher this spring, but he is also being considered as a second left-handed reliever for the bullpen.

LHP Scott Rice is on the 40-man roster and expected to make the Opening Day roster.

Lannan is open to pitching in relief, because his primary goal is to make the Opening Day roster (Rubin, Mar. 11).

“I’ll do anything to help the team,” he said.

The last couple of years, the Mets have been burned by not carrying a second quality left-handed reliever to start the season. That has often led to overusing Rice and Tim Byrdak. It has also reduced flexibility late in games, and has forced other relievers to pitch in situations that exposed their weaknesses.


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Lannan has never made a major league relief appearance. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .267 average in his seven-year career, which isn’t great. The Mets have some flexibility with him, since he cannot opt out of his minor league contract until June (Rubin, Jan. 30). That could allow the team extra time to work Lannan in relief at Triple-A to see how he’ll transition in to the role. Of course, this wouldn’t help the short-term, Opening Day roster situation.

At the same time, if Lannan is a reliever, the race for the last rotation spot will likely come down to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia. Early in the offseason, it sounded as though the preference was to give Mejia the job if he was healthy at the end of camp. However, Terry Collins recently suggested his preference is for a veteran to win the spot, which could result in Mejia starting the year in the rotation at Triple-A. It doesn’t sound like the organization views Mejia as a reliever anymore, and that’s good news considering how much he’s been jerked around over the years.

The Mets should choose the best option for each role and not deliberately handicap themselves because they fear losing somebody on waivers. If players aren’t performing, they shouldn’t be on the roster.

How will the outfield shape up at the beginning of the season?

Michael Baron, Contributor

On Sunday, Terry Collins suggested to reporters only Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young are being considered as the team’s leadoff hitter heading into the regular season.

Collins said, if Juan Lagares is the center fielder, Chris Young would be the leadoff hitter and left fielder. Otherwise, Eric Young Jr. would be the everyday left fielder hitting in the leadoff spot, with Chris Young in center.

“It’s going to be a tough call,” Collins said on Sunday. “We know what Juan is defensively — he’s as good a center fielder as there is. But we’ve gotta take a look at both sides of the baseball. We’ve gotta make sure we can do something about producing some runs. We can’t have a lot of holes.”

No matter what, it’s highly likely Lagares will be on the active roster when camp breaks later this month (Rubin, March 9).


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Eric Young Jr. certainly has shown glimpses of being a quality leadoff hitter. I love his speed and his potential to transform the lineup and disrupt games on the base paths. However, he is probably best suited as a fourth outfielder or utility infielder. Otherwise – as was the case last year – he runs the risk of being overexposed.

On the flip side, there might be just as many questions about Lagares. He swung at way too many pitches outside the strike zone last year and he needs to get on-base more frequently. He did show promise in the Dominican League this past winter, but the regular season is a different animal.

However, his ability to take runs away from the opposition with his glove might outweigh his offensive deficiencies. Team insiders acknowledged the value of outfield defense during the off-season, especially at Citi Field and the other big ballparks in the division. I agree, and I ultimately believe Lagares has a greater ability to contribute towards winning – with his defense alone – than any other current centerfield option on the 40-man roster.

I have to believe the Mets will value Lagares’ superior defense to what Eric Young Jr. might be able to contribute offensively. Lagares, flanked by Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. If winning is as important as people within the organization say it is, then putting the best combination out there, which plays to the strengths of their ballpark, should be the top priority.

Jeurys Familia has the stuff to be a closer

Michael Baron, Contributor

Mets RHP Jeurys Familia is at a similar stage in his career to where Bobby Parnell was when he was finding his way with the Mets in 2009. Back then, Parnell had no choice but to transition from a thrower into a pitcher.

Parnell still struggles with it at times, but he’s come a long way from where he was when he only had 23 big-league innings under his belt, which is what Familia enters the season with in 2014.

Jeurys Familia 1 (Baron)“I think (Familia) has got as good of stuff as anybody out of the bullpen in the National League,” Dan Warthen recently said  (NY Post, Feb. 20). “That’s how good he is. Power, resilience, breaking ball, change-up, sinker. All of it. It’s just a matter of if he’s going to throw the ball across the plate. If he does that, he is going to be good.”

Last year, Familia had a 4.22 ERA in nine appearances before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.

It’s always been about command and consistency for Familia, both with his pitch execution and his delivery. Thankfully, he has the raw tools to be an effective closer, which is not an unreasonable expectation given his stuff. He has an electric fastball, a hard slider, and he incorporates a change-up every so-often, although that has always been a work in progress for him.

The Mets will likely endure similar growing pains with Familia this year, as they had to do with Parnell, but I’m OK with that given his potential to contribute in the back-end of the bullpen.

How will the bullpen be constructed on Opening Day?

Michael Baron, Contributor

The Mets signed relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde to minor league contracts earlier this month. The two veteran pitchers come with question marks, though both have a lot of upside and the kind of experience the team had been searching for to anchor their young bullpen.

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Historically, the Mets have preferred to send healthy veterans north on Opening Day. Not only do they seem to have more confidence in veterans, but there tends to be more roster flexibility with the younger arms, which allows the team to easily send them back to Triple-A. But, it’s hard to envision both Farnsworth and Valverde making the club for Opening Day, especially considering they want to give opportunities to some of the younger relievers in camp.

In the case of Valverde, I expect he has a steeper hill to climb than Farnsworth, considering how much he’s struggled in recent seasons. It could depend on how many relievers they decide to take north on Opening Day, but I expect at least one of them to join Parnell, Scott Rice and Carlos Torres on the roster come March 31.

The rest of the bullpen, however, remains in question. Most other spots are open, and there are a lot of options to choose from…

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Jack Leathersich (BARON)

Jack Leathersich wants to make the team this spring

Mets LHP prospect Jack Leathersich is focused on making the big league club on Opening Day.

“That’s the mindset for everybody here,” he said (Rubin, Feb. 10). “I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and see what happens.”

It’s possible Leathersich or RHP prospect Jeff Walters could end up on the Opening Day roster, according to a one team official (Rubin, Feb. 7). Starting pitchers Rafael Montero and Cory Mazzoni could be considered for the big-league bullpen as well, the team official added.

Michael Baron, Contributor

The Mets are short on the left side of the bullpen, so Leathersich’s potential to dominate cannot be ignored this spring. He’s not very tall, but he throws his fastball in the low 90′s and is equally difficult for lefties and righties to pick up, which helps explain his impressive strikeout totals. Leathersich’s big issue is control and reducing his walks.

He isn’t on the 40-man roster, so Leathersich could fall victim in a numbers game to Josh Edgin. Still, there’s a lot of buzz about Leathersich and his quick rise through the system. If he can show improved command this spring, he might make it difficult for the front office to send him back to Las Vegas.

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Mets were happy with Steven Matz’s progress last season

The Mets were pleased to see their 2009 first-round pick, Steven Matz, return from Tommy John surgery and exceed 100 innings last year (Carig, Feb. 8).

“We were thrilled with just that alone,” Paul DePodesta said. “And then you put the results on top of it, and we were ecstatic about the year he had.”

Matz went 5-6 with a 2.62 ERA in 106 innings for Single-A Savannah, allowing 38 walks with 121 strikeouts in 21 starts.

He was added to the 40-man roster in November and will be in major league camp when pitchers and catchers report to Tradition Field next Saturday.

Matz was ranked the 20th-best prospect in the South Atlantic League in 2013, according to a list published by Baseball America.

Michael Baron, Contributor

The struggle to return from Tommy John Surgery has definitely set Matz’s career back. However, he’s still young and – if he can stay healthy – he could make an impact at the big league level by next season. He showed good command of a hard fastball with movement last season, but he still has work to do with his change-up and curveball. And, he will need to find a fourth pitch in order to make it as a starter. At this point, the most important thing for him is to stay healthy and gain experience and innings so he can refine his stuff and continue to develop in the coming season.


Read more: Finally a ray of light for Ward Melville lefty Steven Matz (Newsday)

Optimism — and questions — heading into 2014

Michael Baron, Contributor

Mets senior vice president of player development Paul DePodesta believes the organization has taken significant steps forward toward becoming a consistent contender (Carig, Feb. 8).

“Ultimately, our job as an organization is to win at the big-league level,” DePodesta said. “And that’s where these successes need to manifest themselves. But there’s a road that you have to take to get there. I think we are passing significant markers in that road. That’s exciting.”

Jeff Wilpon, Curtis Granderson, Sandy AldersonDePodesta says there is a lot of optimism around the team, which feels it has a lot to prove.

I have mixed feelings on how this winter has gone for the Mets. They have created more payroll flexibility and continued to develop and protect the farm system. But, as DePodesta said, the most important thing is to win more baseball games and it’s looking like another spring with more questions than answers.

Yes, they’ve made some good moves on paper and the Mets should soon have Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom in the fold. But, even if they sign Stephen Drew, the roster is only marginally better today than it was before Matt Harvey got hurt and before letting go of John Buck and Marlon Byrd last summer. After enduring all of these losing seasons and waiting for these bad deals to come off the books, I expected the roster to be better than this heading into 2014.

I hope I’m wrong, but there’s unquestionably more work to do and little time left to do it…

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Ike Davis could get 80 – 100 ABs in Spring Training

Last week, Terry Collins said he planned to give 1B Ike Davis 80 – 100 at-bats during Spring Training (Rieber, Feb. 8).

“I think it’s very, very important to try to get him in midseason form when the season starts,” Collins explained. “A lot of guys leave spring training and have 50, 60 at-bats. I might get him 80 to 100 this spring just to make sure he’s ready to go when we start.”

Last spring, Davis got 55 at bats and hit .327 with an .885 OPS. He went on to hit .205 with a .661 OPS, 9 HR and 33 RBI during the regular season.

Michael Baron, Contributor

Ike’s either going to find himself or he won’t at this point, so I’m not sure overextending him in Grapefruit League games will net the results Terry is looking for. In addition, spring at-bats don’t mean much, and too much work too early often results in an injury, something the Mets just don’t need. Besides, if Ike is going to get 80-100 at bats, they won’t be able to get an adequate look at Lucas Duda or get Josh Satin the necessary work he needs to prepare for the season.


Read more: Plan B: Mets will try to get all of Ike Davis’ bad at-bats out of the way in spring training (Newsday)

Ike Davis and Lucas Duda

Ike Davis Rumors: Pirates could still try and trade for Davis

The Prates could look to trade for Mets 1B Ike Davis, Rangers 1B Mitch Mooreland or Blue Jays 1B Adam Lind, instead of signing free-agent 1B Kendry Morales (Cafardo, Feb. 9).

Despite continued attempts to trade Davis this winter, Sandy Alderson said last month he expects Davis and Lucas Duda to compete for the starting first base job in camp (SNY, Jan. 30).

In the event the Mets don’t want Davis or Lucas Duda on the Opening Day roster, both players can still be sent to Triple-A to start 2014 since they each have an option and would not need to pass through waivers (Rubin, Jan. 21).

Stephen Drew 2 (AP)

Stephen Drew Rumors: Red Sox encouraging Drew to return, Mets remain the best bet

The Mets remain the best bet for free agent SS Stephen Drew, although he’s being encouraged by his former Boston teammates to rejoin the Red Sox (Cafardo, Feb. 9).

The Mets might be willing to offer Drew a three-year deal, but the third year has not yet become necessary, Sandy Alderson told a group of season-ticket holders Thursday at Citi Field.

However, Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, had been seeking an opt-out clause after the first year of any deal, something the Mets view as a deal breaker (Rubin, Feb. 6).

WFAN’s Mike Francesa said earlier this week that the Mets made an offer to Drew, but that was refuted by MetsBlog, the New York Post, Daily News, WEEI in Boston and SiriusXM’s Jim Bowden, all citing sources aware of the situation.

Boston reportedly made a two-year offer to Drew last week (Bowden, Feb. 3). However, according to an on-air report from MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, Boston is asking Drew to be a utility infielder, while he’d likely be the starting shortstop for the Mets or Twins.

Michael Baron, Contributor

There’s been a lot of discussion on Twitter about the Mets letting Drew sign elsewhere and waiting for next year’s richer free agent shortstop class.. The problem with that is they really don’t have a proven, big league starting shortstop right now, and to go into this season with the same options as last season will likely to end with similar results. In addition, the Mets don’t have to give up a first round pick Drew today, whereas they might have to do so next year and pay more in dollars and years for another free agent shortstop.
Joel Hanrahan (AP)

Joel Hanrahan threw a light bullpen session for the Mets on Friday

Mets scouts watched free agent RHP Joel Hanrahan throw a light bullpen session in Texas on Friday (Carig, Feb. 7).

The session was intended to gauge Hanrahan’s progress in his recovery from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon muscle, and Hanrahan’s agents intend to showcase him for multiple clubs in early March. He is expected to be fully recovered by May.

Hanrahan, 32, went 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA in only nine games for the Red Sox in 2013.

He saved 76 games for the Pirates between 2011 and 2012, allowing just 96 hits, 52 walks and nine home runs in 128 innings.