Bobby Parnell is about to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. That means the New York Mets are going to spend the rest of 2014 without their closer. It also means their bullpen, already suspect, is a little thinner, and in order to add depth, they may need to get creative.
Working in the Mets’ favor is the common wisdom that relief pitchers are fungible. Of every position or role on a baseball team, relievers — even closers — should be the easiest to replace. So what options do the Mets have to replace Parnell?
Currently, Parnell’s absence means veteran Jose Valverde is New York’s new ninth-inning stopper. Valverde is trying to revert to the form that made him a near-perfect closer in 2011. The Mets would even take the 2012 rendition of Papa Grande, when he managed to save 35 games despite a diminished SO/9 ratio. So far, he has one save in 2014
With Valverde bumped from his presumed eighth inning role, the Mets need to find him a setup man. So far, fellow veteran Kyle Farnsworth has filled that role, and he hasn’t been bad. He’s allowed an earned run on four hits in 3.1 innings pitched. His fastball, which once threatened triple digits on the radar gun, now sits in the low-90s range. Given his diminished stuff, he may not be the answer all year as a setup man.
Of all the young relievers the Mets have, Jeurys Familia is most likely to blossom this year. Despite his ballooned 20.25 ERA (in 1.1 innings), Familia throws a hard, moving fastball and has shown improved command thus far this season. He’s given up four hits, but he hasn’t really been hit hard.
Within the organization, the Mets are floating the idea of using one or two of their starting pitching prospects in the major league bullpen. This has become an option for more and more big league teams, particularly with the innings limits they impose on young pitchers these days. The Mets could promote someone like Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom.
Montero has impeccable command which is highly unusual for a young pitcher. He would be a benefit to a bullpen that has struggled to throw strikes in the early going. A move like this would have the added benefit of allowing him (and/or deGrom) to pitch deeper into the season — the fewer innings they throw, the less likely they are to be shut down in September.
They would likely wait until after April to recall one or both of these pitchers, which would guarantee another year of control. They would be less likely to put top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard in the ‘pen.
As for options outside the organization, the Mets are reportedly interested in Joel Hanrahan. They are going to watch him throw in a few weeks. They looked at him about a month ago, but Hanrahan wasn’t close to returning from Tommy John surgery. He may be ready to return in May or June. If Hanrahan can come back and throw 96-97 MPH like he used to, he could prove to be a fascinating reclamation project.
But the Mets are still shopping in the discount aisle. Even with the declarations by team ownership about how they have overcome their money woes, in action, they seem to be as tight with the wallet as ever. That means their best option will be a surprise performance or two from pitchers who are currently in the organization.