Mets’ Bullpen – A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far (Collector\'s Edition)It’s almost official — Chad Bradford has submarined the Mets and bolted for Baltimore. Bradford was a major piece of a very strong bullpen that is receding by the day.

Without ChadBrad around, who will clean up the messes Pedro Feliciano gets into? And for that matter, who will warm up next to Feliciano in the fifth inning of every game?

Bradford is the latest bullpen member to leave, following seldom-used Heath Bell, Royce Ring, and Henry Owens. Though those youngsters did not give the Mets much in 2006, any or all three have the skills to offer some value in a Major League bullpen in 2007.

Add to the departures the omission of late-season phenom Guillermo Mota, who, even if he is re-signed, will be ineligible for the first 50 games of 2007.

The Mets have also made it clear that Roberto Hernandez — at the time the focus of the deal that sent Xavier Nady to Pittsburgh — will not be re-signed. Though his performance down the stretch indicated that Bert was not the same pitcher he was in 2005, you would think he might have enough gas to be considered for Bradford’s 6th inning role as a ROOGY. Perhaps the Mets will let him sign elsewhere, then trade Ben Johnson for him around July 31, 2007.

Further, it appears that Darren Oliver will not be a Met in 2007.

So this is who is left from the 2006 bullpen: Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, and, hopefully, Duaner Sanchez. Now consider that Feliciano is next to useless, even as a LOOGY, Sanchez is coming off a major injury, and there’s a possibility that Heilman will either be dealt or moved to the starting rotation, and it looks like the Mets are exactly where they were at this time last year — Billy Wagner as the closer and a whole lot of question marks as to how to bridge the gap to him.

What makes matters worse is it’s looking more and more like the Mets will also be without Tom Glavine — perhaps the only starter in the rotation who could be counted on to go at least six innings every start, and often get into the seventh. Yes, El Duque often gets into the 8th or 9th, but just as often can’t get past the 4th or 5th.

Speaking of the starting rotation, it currently looks like this:

1. Orlando Hernandez
2. John Maine
3. Oliver Perez
4. and 5. Dave Williams? Mike Pelfrey? Philip Humber? Brian Bannister? Jason Vargas? Alay Soler? Victor Zambrano?

This is a very scary group. Yes, there’s a lot of potential with the younger guys, but whether the potential will be filled remains to be seen. And you can applaud the postseason performances of John Maine and Oliver Perez all you want, it doesn’t change the fact that Perez is a game-to-game crapshoot and Maine has trouble getting past the fifth inning. I love and support Maine as much as anyone, but he averaged 4 1/3 innings per start during his playoff heroics. The point being, the “bridge” from the starters to the relievers is looking less like a footbridge and more like the suspension variety.

There’s every indication that Glavine may not return, and even if he does, can we count on his 42-year-old body to once again be a 6-7-inning machine? Regardless of whether he returns, will the Mets be able to obtain Barry Zito, the only worthwhile free-agent starter available (to the East Coast)? If Glavine does jettison to Atlanta, I’d guess the Mets will overpay for Zito, and/or make a major deal for Freddy Garcia or Javy Vazquez. Garcia would be a good fit, as he regularly logs 215-230 innings a year, making all of his starts and going deep into games. Vazquez was a similar pitcher early in his career, but his innings have been diminishing each passing year — while playing in the AL, where the DH eliminates the need to remove pitchers for pinch-hitters.

Some buzz has the Mets chasing Ted Lilly and/or Gil Meche, but neither could be considered an innings-eater. Same goes for Jeff Suppan, who despite his postseason performances, has not topped 200 innings in any of the last three years. The Mets need some workhorses, and it makes more sense to find a real one, rather than overpay for a mediocre 5-inning starter. I’d much rather see the Mets give a chance to Pelfrey, Humber, or even Heilman, than see them dump a load of cash and a four-year albatross contract for someone like Meche. In fact, I’m hoping that Omar pulls one of his under-the-radar moves to sign Tony Armas, Jr. to a one-year flyer. Armas may be a question mark, but no more than the other non-Zitos, and he’ll cost a heckuva lot less.

In any case, Omar is sure to busy for the next few weeks, and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a number of new arms coming the Mets’ way before Christmas.

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.