Who is Left for Mets Bullpen?

Scott Rice and Jack Leathersich have been demoted to minor league camp, leaving Dario Alvarez and Sean Gilmartin as the lone lefties in the Mets bullpen. There’s fair argument that neither Alvarez nor Gilmartin will make the Opening Day roster, either. If that’s the case, what southpaw or southpaws will be in the Mets bullpen when the real games begin?

Then again, do the Mets NEED to have a lefthander in their bullpen? Mike Scioscia went entire seasons without a lefty in his bullpen during the Angels’ dominance of the AL West in the early part of this millennium, so it’s not an unheard-of concept. A few weeks ago, Terry Collins said he didn’t necessarily need a lefty in the bullpen … but … his boss Sandy Alderson “couldn’t foresee” a lefty-less Mets bullpen. Hmm … well, if you saw (or are old-school, and read) Moneyball, then you know who wins this argument.

Before we move on, just for a second let’s consider Collins’ assertion that he doesn’t need a lefthander in his bullpen. The NL has fewer frightening lefthanded-hitting sluggers than it has had in the past. The most dangerous southpaw sluggers in the NL East are Freddie Freeman, and … who? Maybe there’s a scintilla of fear when Ryan Howard steps in the batter’s box, and certainly, he’s completely erased if a lefty is on the mound. The Mets play almost half of their games against divisional opponents, so maybe a LOOGY isn’t all that necessary. What other dangerous lefty hitters exist outside the division? Anthony Rizzo, Adrian Gonzalez, and Joey Votto are the only ones that I can think of off the top of my head — and neither Votto nor Rizzo are significantly neutralized by left-handed pitching. After going to Baseball-Reference, I was reminded by Jay Bruce, Justin Morneau, Corey Dickerson, and Charlie Blackmon, but otherwise, it’s a pretty short list of scary left-handed hitters. Maybe that doesn’t matter — maybe it’s good to have a LOOGY to neutralize the average lefthanded hitters who become terrible against lefties. I don’t know; I always liked Scioscia’s approach of simply stocking the bullpen with the BEST arms you have, regardless of which hand they use to throw the baseball.

There’s another nice thing about no lefty in the bullpen: there’s no opportunity for matchups. How many times in the past few years have we seen Terry Collins bring in a lefty to face a lefty, or righty to face a righty, even when statistically it didn’t make any sense at all? How many times have we seen a matchup move that appeared to be for no other reason than for Collins to save face during the postgame press conference? In some ways, it could be argued that the fewer decisions Collins can make, the better off the Mets will be.

But let’s get back to reality: big boss man Alderson believes a big-league bullpen must have a lefty. If neither Alvarez nor Gilmartin is the answer, who will come from the outside? There has been buzz about Brian Matusz, but the Mets reportedly are looking for cash coming back as part of a trade. Really? The guy makes $3.2M this year, which is more than I’ll ever make in my lifetime, but is incredibly affordable in the Monopoly-money world of MLB. If the Mets don’t want to or can’t spend a few million to fill a gaping hole in their bullpen, every person buying a season ticket should reconsider their decision, because a big-league team that is intent on making the postseason doesn’t quibble over a few million bucks to answer a burning question — not even in a small market. Sandy Alderson insisted for four years that the Mets needed payroll flexibility in order to succeed when the time was right. Well guess what? The payroll is well under $100M, and the team claims to be “ready to compete.” So … what’s the hold up? Why the penny-pinching? What are the Mets saving up for?

If it isn’t Matusz, other lefties who may be available now or in the coming days include Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno of the Nationals; J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez, and Adam Liberatore of the Dodgers (though Howell is even more expensive than Matusz); Boone Logan and Rex Brothers of the Rockies; Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, and Kyle Ryan of the Tigers; Martire Garcia and Ross Detwiler of the Rangers; Zac Rosscup of the Cubs; and Brad Hand of the Marlins. Sam Freeman might have been available, but the Cardinals just traded him to the Rangers, who seem intent on keeping the lefty. As far as freebies, the Marlins have released Donnie Joseph, the Braves cut James Russell (who pitches much better against right-handed hitters), and the Cubs released Felix Doubront. By no means is this the full list of LOOGYs that may potentially be available between now and Opening Day; what I’d like is for you to provide some suggestions in the comments. Alternatively, feel free to support the argument that the Mets don’t need a lefthander in the bullpen (even if it’s not right away), and/or, if you have an in-house suggestion.

Fire away!

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Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. DanB March 30, 2015 at 12:27 pm
    If your goal is to make it to the postseason, then you need a decent lefty. If your goal is to give the impression that you are trying to make it to the postseason while waiting for starters to develop and keeping payroll low, then you pick up someone’s garbage. Personally, I would bet the Met payroll is going down, not up, over the season. Hence no quality lefty.
  2. argonbunnies March 30, 2015 at 10:59 pm
    Not much point in having a mediocre lefty in the ‘pen to shave a little bit off Freeman and Utley’s splits.

    The ideal option is to get a lefty who’s just plain good, and use their handedness as a minor boost, but the Mets obviously aren’t going that route (which is unsurprising, as such guys are both rare and pricey).

    I am happy to have a lefty to throw at guys who simply can’t hit lefties, though, whoever they are. The pitcher you want for that, though, is someone you can trust not to simply walk the opponent, and that’s the Mets’ problem: Leathersich, Rice, and Alex Torres all have long records of being walk machines, and Alvarez, Gilmartin and Blevins have shown no control this spring. If all you need is a lefty for guys who can’t hit lefties, you can find that for free by calling Pedro Feliciano or Tim Byrdak, neither of whom wanted to retire.

    Another option is to have a lefty who’s actually tough for any lefty to hit, a Mike Myers or late-career Orosco type. Blevins might qualify; I’m not sure. It’s easy to see Gilmartin becoming that, but he hasn’t done it yet.

    I know I just named two extreme niche roles, but here’s the thing — once the Mets’ starting pitcher is out of the game, making the most out of the least is the name of the game. The Mets don’t have a Kimbrel, Chapman, Holland, Jansen, Robertson or Papelbon… or even a Miller, Davis, Herrera, Betances, Doolittle, Rosenthal, Cishek, Clippard, Giles, Uehara, McGee, O’Day, Smith, Benoit, Street, Melancon, Casilla, Boxberger or Britton. Cobbling together matchups that are just slightly favorable is actually the best the 2015 Mets can hope for, whether that means Familia facing the heart of the order in the 7th or Blevins facing Christian Yelich in the 8th.

    So, yeah, absent acquiring true dominators in the modern short reliever mold, I think the Mets do need a lefty or two.