Spurred on by lingering concerns about the reliability of closer Frank Francisco, the Mets have expressed interest in former Tigers closer Jose Valverde, a source confirmed Friday. Valverde is one of a handful of former closers still available on the free-agent market.
They also have entertained a reunion with Francisco Rodriguez, who as the Mets' closer in 2011 had a $17.5-million option for 2012 that would automatically vest if he finished 55 games (after they traded him to the Brewers that July, he waived that clause). Rodriguez is among a group of former closers who could bolster the team's bullpen depth.
Speaking generally, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he is likely to add at least one more arm to the bullpen.
"I just can't tell you at this point who that will be," Alderson said. "And I can't tell you it's going to be somebody that will displace Frankie [Francisco], either. We're looking to help the pen in a variety of ways, provide some more depth and major-league experience. I can't really get into names because I'm not sure how it will turn out."
A right elbow issue down the stretch limited Francisco to 48 appearances, his fewest since 2006. He saved 23 games but posted career-worst marks in ERA (5.53) and WHIP, allowing 1.606 walks and hits per innings pitched.
Francisco had minor elbow surgery during the offseason and is expected to be healthy for spring training. Nevertheless, his hold on the closer's spot looks to be in danger.
"His physical condition entering spring training becomes more and more critical," Alderson said. "We'll see how that goes when camp opens next week."
Bobby Parnell appears positioned to challenge Francisco for the job. The hard-throwing righthander filled in as the team's closer late last season while Francisco nursed his tender elbow.
Valverde, 34, might be the most intriguing of the Mets' choices, and not just for his antics on the mound. He saved 35 games and posted a 3.78 ERA last season, though he came apart in the postseason, eventually ceding closer duties to Phil Coke.
The Mets remain engaged in trade talks in hopes of upgrading an outfield devoid of proven major-league talent. "There are still a few options out there," Alderson said.
Free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn still is unsigned, but Alderson declined to comment on the Mets' level of interest. Bourn appears to be a long shot. Even if the Mets were willing to meet his contract demands, it would cost them a first-round draft pick to sign him, which remains a major obstacle.
The Mets did make one small addition to the outfield, signing veteran righthanded hitter Marlon Byrd to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.
Byrd, 35, hit .210 with one homer in 47 games for the Cubs and Red Sox last season. He also was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.