When the Mets announced the purchase of Brian Stokes from Tampa Bay at the end of November, it was hard to get excited. After all, there were whispers then that Johan Santana was available, plus the Mets were showing no interest at all in any of the big-name free agents on the market. Heck, the biggest news back then was that Yorvit Torrealba would be the Mets catcher in 2008 (ouch), then wouldn’t be, and Johnny Estrada would be instead (how things change).
It didn’t help that the 28-year-old Stokes was hardly a candidate for the Mets bullpen. In his first full season in the big leagues, he sported a 7.07 ERA in 59 games, with a 1.84 WHIP. Through 62 innings, he struck out only 35 and gave up 90 hits, including 11 homeruns. While a switch to the NL can help a pitcher, it doesn’t have THAT much of an effect on an ERA above 7; shave an unrealistic two runs off and it’s still far from acceptable. In fact, if you looked strictly at the numbers, it was hard to understand why the Mets would bother with Brian Stokes.
However, Stokes is having a nice spring thus far. In four innings over four appearances, he’s given up one hit, no walks, no runs, and struck out two. Yes, it’s early, and yes, it’s a small sample. But it’s encouraging. In contrast, this time last year the Mets were considering Jon Adkins for the bullpen, and it was clear from the outset that Adkins would struggle mightily in retiring big leaguers. Stokes, so far, looks OK — he’s throwing lots of strikes, working quickly, and showing both a sharp overhand curve and a splitfinger changeup with a nice downward break. His velocity is nothing to write home about, but he picks his spots to rear back and surprise a hitter with an occasional 92-MPH offering.
Will he make the squad? Who knows, but at least he’s forcing the other bullpen candidates to compete — and competition is a good thing.