Relievers represent the most volatile investments in baseball. Even the shrewdest organizations will be prone to their share of misses. No team is exempt. Building a bullpen isn’t easy.
But few make it look harder than the Mets.
Not once during Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager with the Mets has he pieced together anything close to an adequate bullpen. And as the Mets begin their fourth season under Alderson, it’s unclear whether that will change any time soon.
“The bullpen has not been good over the last several years,” Alderson said before a bullpen implosion ruined Opening Day. “It needs to get better.”
And that starts with Alderson, whose recent track record for accumulating useful bullpen pieces has been nothing short of abysmal.
The Mets’ inability to find solid relief help has become an ever-present black eye. And now, with the potential long-term absence of closer Bobby Parnell, the bullpen once again appears combustible.
It hadn’t always been that way. In 2010, the final season before Alderson’s arrival as GM, Mets relievers ranked a respectable 5th in the National League with a 3.59 ERA.
But from 2011-13, the Mets have plummeted, posting a 4.31 ERA. It’s the second-highest mark in baseball. In every year of that woeful span, the Mets have languished near the bottom of the league.
Ninety wins? No way. Not with this bullpen. But so far, Alderson & Co. have proven incapable of stopping the slide.
Good teams discuver useful bullpen pieces on the open market, whether through lucrative free agent deals or shrewd low-cost signings. In both areas, the Mets have faltered. The results have been staggering.
From 2011-13, just three Mets relievers logged at least 30 innings and posted an ERA below 3.00. In addition to Parnell [2.78], the group includes Carlos Torres [1.47] and LaTroy Hawkins [2.93], a pair of minor-league signings that worked out well for the Mets.
Not included in the group? Any of Alderson’s major league free-agent signings.
Alderson spent modestly in his first three offseasons at the helm. But when he did loosen the pursestrings, he steered a relatively large portion of his budget toward fixing his chronically underperforming bullpen. Not that it made a difference.
Overall, Alderson awarded roughly $29 million in guaranteed contracts to lure free agents to the Mets from 2011 to 2013. Relief pitching accounted for roughly $19 million -- two-thirds of his spending.
Looking back, Alderson might have been better off lighting that cash on fire.
Jon Rauch [one year, $3.5 million], D.J. Carrasco [two years, $2.5 million] and Brandon Lyon [one year, $750,000] are among the Alderson Era relievers who provided the Mets with mediocre or below average production.
None proved to be a bigger flop than veteran righthander Frank Francisco. After signing a two-year, $12-million contact prior to the 2012 season, Francisco spent much of his Mets tenure on the disabled list. When he did see the field, he was horrendous. Francisco recorded 24 saves while posting a 5.36 ERA. For all that cash, he gave the Mets a grand total of 48 2/3 innings.
Alderson's bullpen failures might have been easier to stomach had the Mets developed some homegrown alternatives. A larger stable of internal candidates would have eased the Mets’ reliance on limited-ceiling minor-league signings to fill the void in the bullpen.
But the Mets didn’t have that luxury, a problem of which the roots stretch back to before Alderson’s arrival. But the shockwaves have been felt throughout his tenure.
From 2011 to 2013, 48 pitchers made at least one relief appearance for the Mets. Only 10 were homegrown. Within that small group, only Parnell had emerged as a stalwart.
Alderson insists things are better now. The Mets stand on the brink of a Cardinals-style infusion of young arms.
“We’ve got much more depth than we’ve had in the past,” said Alderson, whose fingerprints on the roster have become increasingly visible. “And much more flexibility.”
The front office under Alderson has yet to acquire and develop a homegrown player that has appeared in the big league bullpen. But they’re closer than ever before. In Triple-A Las Vegas, the homegrown arms who could end up in the bullpen include Alderson-era acquisitions and Rafael Montero and Logan Verrett.
"We're in the process of introducing more of our young players into that bullpen," Alderson said. “We hope that's successful. But obviously, that's got to play out during the season."
In the Alderson Era, any success in the bullpen would be a first.