With Bobby Parnell out for the season following Tommy John surgery, the New York Mets are trying to cobble together the back end of their bullpen as best they can. After veteran reclamation project Jose Valverde got rocked in three straight ninth-inning appearances, New York turned to veteran reclamation project Kyle Farnsworth to handle the role of closer. With the eighth and ninth inning options as thin as they are now, the question is raised: why didn’t the Mets re-sign LaTroy Hawkins?
Hawkins, at age 40, turned in a stellar 2013 season for the Mets. In 73 games, he had a 2.93 ERA, 3.06 FIP, and a 1.15 WHIP. When Parnell went down with a neck injury, Hawkins stepped in and saved 13 games. By the time September rolled around, Hawkins was still throwing 96 MPH fastballs, and looked as strong as he ever had.
Publicly, the Mets stated they were interested in bringing Hawkins back. They contacted his agent before the season ended to begin negotiations. Heading into November, the Mets were joined by the Colorado Rockies as potential suitors. The Rockies offered Hawkins a one-year $2.5 million contract. By some reports, that offer “blew away” the Mets’ bid. Hawkins decided to sign with Colorado, the team he reached the World Series with in 2007.
A one-year contract valued at $2.5 million is eminently affordable, even for the financially-challenged Mets. Even if New York was worried about his age, the contract would have been cheap enough to take a flyer on Hawkins. With the situation the way it is in the Mets bullpen here in April of 2014, Hawkins would have been awfully valuable.
LaTroy, now the Rockies’ closer, has saved five games while posting a 0.75 WHIP and 1.35 ERA. Valverde, on the other hand, saved two games and gave up no runs in his first five appearances of the year, before getting tagged for eight runs (five earned) and four home runs in his last three innings of work. Papa Grande has now been demoted to a setup role for closer-du-jour Farnsworth.
Later in the offseason, the Mets made a significant offer to Grant Balfour, reportedly exceeding the Tampa Bay Rays’ offer of two years, $12 million. But Balfour chose to play in Florida, which has no state income tax, and is located closer to his family. That action indicates that the Mets didn’t pass on Hawkins for financial reasons. Perhaps it was his age that scared the Mets away, but they later signed 40 year-old Bartolo Colon to a two-year contract. The philosophy of the Mets’ front office, as with most modern baseball front offices, is to treat relief pitchers as if they are replaceable. They put more value on starting pitchers, which is probably why they were less reluctant to sign Colon at his age, while signing Farnsworth and Valverde to minor league contracts.
So now the Mets are left to mix and match and hope and pray in the eighth and ninth innings. The veterans are there for now, but they will hope a young pitcher, like Jeurys Familia or Gonzalez Germen, can take their games to the next level, or that a minor league prospect like Vic Black or Zack Thornton can get themselves ready for the big leagues. The Mets could find the right combination — relief pitchers are unpredictable — but they’d be in much better shape at the moment with LaTroy Hawkins in their bullpen.