Throwing Paint on the Wall

The Mets bullpen was a strength in 2006, and was built almost entirely from acquiring parts outside the organization. At the time, it looked like a “let’s throw paint on the wall and see what sticks” strategy. Between the end of the 2005 season and spring training 2006, here were ALL the relief pitching acquisitions of that offseason:

Free Agents

Billy Wagner
Chad Bradford
Pedro Feliciano
Darren Oliver
Yusaku Iriki
Jose Parra
Matt Perisho
Juan Perez
Mike Venafro

Acquired Via Trade

Duaner Sanchez
Jorge Julio
Steve Schmoll

Mitch Wylie (Rule 5 draft)

Wow … that was a pretty damn good offseason rebuilding project, wouldn’t you say? The Mets got themselves a closer (Wagner), a dyamite setup man (Sanchez), a LOOGY (Feliciano), a ROOGY who turned into a quasi-setup man (Bradford), a very useful long man (Oliver), and a project that went right and was flipped for Orlando Hernandez (Jorge Julio). They brought in 13 arms and 6 made significant contributions to the cause.

Unfortunately, the 2006-2007 offseason was not nearly as bountiful.

Free Agents / Waivers

Jason Standridge
Jorge Sosa
Clint Nageotte
Jorge Vasquez
Lino Urdaneta
Aaron Sele
Scott Schoeneweis
Mike Bynum
Jose Santiago
Marcos Carvajal

Acquired Via Trade:

Ambiorix Burgos
Jon Adkins

All together, the Mets went outside the organization for 12 pitchers. Remove Standridge from the list because he elected to be a free agent before reporting to camp. So, eleven. And from those 11, four — Burgos, Schoeneweis, Mota, Sosa, and Sele — impacted the 2007 bullpen. Urdaneta and Adkins both spent time on the ML roster, but only pitched an inning each.

In the end, the Mets came up with one youngster who showed promise (Burgos), two middle relievers who stunk (Mota/Show), one useless long reliever (Sele), and one guy who was very useful until over-exposed (Sosa). Clearly, a vast contrast from the previous offseason. So, how to “go back” to success of the 2005-2006 winter?

Although it’s easy to see the success now, at the time of those acquisitions — even in spring training — it didn’t appear as though the Mets did a bang-up job of assembling a bullpen. Sure, getting Wagner was a no-brainer. But the Sanchez move was widely criticized at the time — most felt that giving up Jae Seo was overpaying. In addition, I’m not afraid to admit I was one of many pundits who wondered why in the world Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver were brought into camp, and I also thought Feliciano was a waste of time (shows what I know!). And as much as it appeared that Kris Benson’s days as a Met were over, very few people thought that Minaya received equal value by obtaining Jorge Julio (and that throw-in, John Maine). Was the Mets’ scouting department really THAT good about mining for unknown talent, or were they just lucky?

Hard to say, but there’s no question about one thing: regardless of whether it’s luck or skill, Minaya and his scouting department must do a much better job of unearthing the hidden gems this winter — in a market that’s going to be twice as competitive. The Mets cannot possibly plan 2008 with the idea that Mota and Schoeneweis will combine for 120+ appearances — which they did in 2007. Further, they can’t expect Heilman and Feliciano to pitch in every other game again. There absolutely has to be more flexibility, and both Willie and Omar must look at the bullpen as an entity of interchangeable parts. You want to assign one man as closer? Fine. One man as the setup / 8th inning guy? Maybe. But the rest of the ‘pen has to be dynamic, with roles AND faces changing regularly. Otherwise, you run into burnout and overexposure — a prime example being Joe Smith. Smith was lights-out for two months because he had an unusual delivery and no scouting report. The more Willie leaned on him, the more the rest of NL assembled information. It didn’t help his arm, either, that he appeared in 40 games before the All-Star break. While we hope that he can make adjustments as the opposition adjusts to him, it’s possible we’ve seen the very best that Smith can attain in MLB. Not to say he won’t some day be a reliable middle reliever, but that the “unknown” factor may have helped him considerably in April and May.

Similarly, Jorge Sosa seemed to be doing something differently at the beginning of 2007 from what he’d done in previous years. Maybe it was a bit more bite on the slider, or throwing it to a different location — whatever it was, it worked for a while, until, again, the rest of the league caught on.

At the same time, the Mets should learn from that “unknown” phenomena (if not via watching Smith/Sosa, then by seeing how their veteran hitters struggle against rookie pitchers — i.e., the Wandy Rodriguez Effect). In other words, pinpoint four or five “AAAA” arms who you can bring up throughout the season — maybe each for two months at a time — to eat up innings and “show a different look” as Willie says. For example, Steve Schmoll has been out of MLB long enough that most batters have forgotten him — use him as a sixth-inning guy for a month or two. But then plan to replace him with someone else by, say, mid-June. And have another guy ready to come up in August. Something like that, where you have “mystery” pitchers who can provide some valuable innings until they’re exposed. My guess is you can find some borderline minor league pitchers, and/or import some cheap arms from the AL (Mike Myers?). Yeah, it would be nice to find three or four Duaner Sanchez’s, but those guys simply don’t exist (or are not available, or are closers). So you have to get creative with the available supply.

So what does that mean for this offseason? As I suggested in the previous post, it means the Mets need to throw more paint on the wall. Bring in a minimum of 15 guys from outside the organization, and perhaps as many as 20. Try to mix in guys with unusual deliveries (Myers, Byung-Hyun Kim), one lethal pitch (Jorge Sosa slider), and relatively “unknown” minor leaguers who show something of promise. Get them all into spring training, give Rick Peterson plenty of caffeine, and hope for the best.

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. skibolton October 19, 2007 at 10:45 am
    Unless we can find a taker for one of our bad contracts, I’d stay away from a bullpen signing. Cutting any of the current bullpen candidates keeps us on the hook for their contract. The only one whose contract is up is sele, and I’m sure we can replace him internally. That said, there are a number of guys coming off of injuries who would probably take a minor league contract.
  2. isuzudude October 19, 2007 at 12:28 pm
    I just don’t understand how your solution for fixing the worst aspect of our team from 2007 is to pretty much leave it in tact with the exception of signing some “guys coming off of injuries.” Yes, it’s wonderful to have guys with minor league options who can be bussed back and forth from triple-A when the need arises. But if Sele’s bullpen spot is the only one up for grabs (although Sosa is arbitration eligible, so he may be non-tendered), then there’s only room for one arm in the bullpen at a time behind the likes of Wagner, Heilman, Sosa, Mota, Schoeneweis, and Feliciano. That means you’re bringing back all the same bodies who blew game after game for us in 2007, with the addition of one extra minor leaguer. That will not get the job done.

    Designating players for assignment or releasing players altogether may be the only way to save the bullpen for 2008. Be realistic. No one is trading for Mota or Schoeneweis. So we either have to use them in a role that will make them successful, for get rid of them for other guys who can help. Will eating $3.2-mil of contract owed to Mota to see him compile a 5.00 ERA on some other team break our bank? It seemed like the call immediately after the season was that “things have to change.” What happened to that motto?

    If signing Mariano Rivera or Francisco Cordero means having to release Mota and eat his contract, so be it. Can anyone on this blog honestly tell me paying his $3.2-mil contract so that he pitches on another team wouldn’t be worth seeing Rivera pitch in the 8th or 9th inning for the Mets? If the Mets have money “up the wazoo,” then the answer has got to be no.

    But I’ll digress. Because injuries are always unforeseen, I agree that it is important to put as many capable arms as possible into your minor league system. But, as seen in the past and evidenced by Joe’s article above, Omar has done that. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. And that’s because signing garbage and trying to turn it into gold is no easy task. And expecting a GM to do it every year is asking too much. That’s why, in my (idiotic) opinion, one or two established arms should be signed for the bullpen this offseason: one to replace Sele, and one to potentially replace Mota. Then you begin the preseason with 7 established bullpen members, Mota and Sanchez waiting in the wings, and a cast a minor league pitchers and non-roster invites who are able to step up when an injury occurs.

    It’s nice to dream the Mets should give their minor league pitchers more of a chance to contribute in 2008, hoping we also have a Joba Chamberlain or Rafael Perez in the waiting. But the truth is we don’t. We did in Bell and Lindstrom, but they were hastily traded for nothing useful. So if life gives you lemons, don’t try to make apple juice. If the strength of the Mets is money and not prospects, then sign the established veterans and leave the minor league players in the minor leagues until their services are needed.

    I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for your disagreements…

  3. joe October 19, 2007 at 12:42 pm
    If there is any realistic shot at Mo Rivera, the Mets must make a bid. Problem is, if they do sign Mo, that doesn’t necessarily help things — they still have to deal with the 6th and 7th innings, and the only reliable option is Heilman.

    As you say, Mota needs to go. I think he will still be with the team come ST, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get sent down / DFA’d / released come April.

    Now my point is instead of replacing Mota with another Mota — i.e., a guy who is a veteran and not one that can be shuttled back and forth — you are stuck in the same situation if the guy doesn’t pan out. And outside of Rivera and maybe Cordero, the free agent pool of middle relief is a total crapshoot. Which is why I like the idea of stocking up on “tweeners” that you can try out and shuttle back and forth — remain flexible, instead of “keeping confidence with my guys”.

    I don’t like the idea of Sosa coming back, except as a shuttler.

  4. isuzudude October 19, 2007 at 1:07 pm
    I know he doesn’t prototypically fit the bill, but look at Sosa’s 2007 #’s and career #’s vs right hand hitters. They’re not bad. Could he be the ROOGY we’re looking for?

    However, even if I convince the masses here on the blog, Willie would also have to be convinced that Sosa should be used as a ROOGY, and that more than likely won’t happen.

    Give me this: stuff-wise, aren’t Sosa and Turk Wendell pretty similar?

  5. joe October 19, 2007 at 1:30 pm
    You are much too correct in your assessment … Sosa could be the ROOGY, but as you say, Willie will use him the way Torre abused Proctor.

    Stuff-wise, Wendell and Sosa are similar, sorta, but not really. Turk threw a lot of sliders, but mixed in sinkers and changeups. Sosa does not change speeds, and does not go into the bottom of the strike zone (except with flat sliders). Turk also had no fear, threw lots of strikes, got lots of grounders, and was a rubber arm. To me, Sosa has some confidence issues, seems afraid to throw strikes, gives up too many longballs, and his durability is questionable.

  6. skibolton October 19, 2007 at 2:13 pm
    I would love to see us bring in rivera or cordero, or even gagne, but I don’t see it being a real possibility. If we do great, but if we don’t, I’d hate to see us throw money and years at guys who will limit the ability to move players and use more arms during the course of the season, while probably wearing themselves out for the stretch run. In my opinion, that was the biggest problem down the stretch.
    Willie had seven arms available to him from the bullpen this season. He never used sele, which brings in to question why he was even there. Assuming we still had all of the guys we traded, how would we fit them on the roster? To bring up an owens or lindstrom, we’d still have to get mota or show out of the way. That would be the point of saving two spots for guys with options left. You constantly have fresh arms that can clean up the garbage, instead of having to use heilman in those games.
    I’m not saying that omar can improve the bullpen by not going after guys like linebrink or affeldt, I do think he can keep the pen fresher at the end of the season by passing on them. This also allows him to have a spot he can open up if a guy like romero or percival become available during the course of the season. Some of your young guys can also get exposure to major league hitters in low pressure situations this way.
    The idea of going out and getting a bunch of veterans for the pen just doesn’t work. This is what the yankees do every year, and every year the pen is worn out at the end of the season. I know torre uses the same 5 guys to often, but when he can’t option them to give them some rest who else can he use. The most successful bullpens in baseball always have several young pitchers who are constantly moving up and down along with several stable veterans. Having several veterans is great, but the mets need to do a better job in only giving the correct vets multi year contracts.
  7. isuzudude October 19, 2007 at 3:19 pm
    “I’d hate to see us throw money and years at guys who will limit the ability to move players and use more arms during the course of the season”

    To me, it sounds like you’re more interested in giving looks to young guys than building a strong bullpen. If Rivera was signed and coupled with Wagner, Heilman, Feliciano, and a rebounding Sanchez, we easily have the best bullpen in the league. And that’s all it takes – one big addition. Why is that such a bad idea compared to rolling the dice with 20 minor leaguers and see which ones can keep their ERA under 4 for a 2-week stretch?

    Re: using more arms over the course of the season. I’m all for that, and we’ve detailed thoroughly how Willie overexerted his good bullpen pitchers in 2007. Half the battle is convincing Willie to entrust the lesser end of his bullpen when the game is becoming lopsided, and the other half is making sure there are enough viable pitchers in the system to make the theory work. Beleiving that if you invite 20 guys to camp to compete for bullpen jobs fixes the problem entirely is only doing half the work.

    “Assuming we still had all of the guys we traded, how would we fit them on the roster?”

    This one is easy. If Bell, Lindstrom, & company weren’t traded, then more than likely Mota and Schoeneweis aren’t even signed. That’s because the trades occurred before (Nov 15 & 20 respectively) Mota and Sho were signed (Dec 7, Jan 16). So Bell and Lindstrom would have occupied the roster spots Mota and Sho held, so no need to worry about how to fit them on the roster.

    “The idea of going out and getting a bunch of veterans for the pen just doesn’t work. This is what the yankees do every year, and every year the pen is worn out at the end of the season.”

    As you conveniently stated after this, it’s more Torre’s fault that the bullpen for the Yankees is burned out by August, not the fact that they have a lot of vets in the bullpen. And my idea is not to just get a bunch of veterans. I’m all for young guys who can contribute, but to comprise a bullpen solely of pitchers with options is virtually impossible for a team with a winning record. To me, that sounds like a team who planned poorly for the season and is just spinning the wheel to see what pitchers get to be in the bullpen for the week. It’s better to have at least 5 veterans who you know you can count on all season long, and then bring in the minor leaguers and guys with options when necesary. You won’t be handcuffed in the bullpen if you have the right guys, and obviously we all can agree that Sele, Mota, and Sho were not the right guys. But this season, if the bullpen is Wagner, Heilman, Sanchez, Feliciano, Sosa, one more legitamite reliever and Shoeneweis as the LOOGY, where’s the chink in the armor? Essentially, with that bullpen, what’s the reason for needing guys with options when everyone there can be trusted and counted on? The key, which I believe as much as you, is to give them adequate rest throughout the season, but that means more than just recalling and demoting guys with options. It means leaving starters in the game longer, going with the less-used relievers more often when a game is getting out of hand, stop using guys in 2 inning relief roles, and requiring pitchers go on the DL throughout “dead arm” periods to stay fresh and not overburden the rest of the pen.

  8. joe October 19, 2007 at 3:35 pm
    The problem is that you can’t find 5 veterans who you know you can count on all season long. Look at any team in the NL, and, other than the Padres and maybe AZ (who has starters going 6-8 innings), you have 15-25 relievers being used.

    Wagner, Heilman, Sanchez, Feliciano, Sosa, and Show is a nice start. How many innings do you think they can cover over the course of the season? What happens when one or two or three get injured? What happens when Sosa or Show or someone else turn out to stink?

    Good luck removing the 100 pitch count theory from Willie’s (and Omar’s) mind. What you’d like to see is what I’d like to see (starters going longer, etc.), but it’s not likely to happen.

  9. skibolton October 19, 2007 at 4:06 pm
    I realize that bell and lindstrom etc. were traded prior to the mota signing, but I don’t think one had anything to do with the other. Part of the reasoning that lindstrom and ring were included in those deals was that they were not on the 40 man roster at that time, and weren’t going to be added prior to the rule 5 draft in early december. Both relievers would probably be gone with the mets recieving 50’000 dollars per player and nothing else. Bell was out of options, and either had to be on the major league roster opening day or offered the chance to be released outright.
    With the exception of owens, none of the relievers traded last winter was going to be with the mets organization this past year. That said, I’m not thrilled with what we got in return, but I don’t think to many teams were knocking down the doors to trade for guys that they could have for just money in several weeks.
    The Show and Mota signings were bad signings…period. I think tht omar was planning to resign mota anyway, regardless of who was traded. I honestly feel that the show signing was a panic move when they got medical reports on duaner’s rehab.
    The bullpen of wags, heilman, sosa, show, sanchez, feliciano, and one more legit reliever has some merit. My issue with it is that this legit guy probably won’t be mo or f cordero. Assuming the legit guy is a guy like linebrink or even bradford, we only have one guy who can be rested if they have a case of dead arm. MLB requires medical records when you DL a player. Fatigue is not a valid reason, as was the case when the Bo Sox tried to DL Foulke in 2005. The sox were given the option of DFA’ing Foulke or leaving him on the active roster. Craig Biggio was denied a trip to the DL this year, as I’m sure many other players were that I didn’t hear about.
    I love the idea of 5 quality vets and two guys for the lower pressure situatons. We already have wags, heilman, feliciano, mota, and show under contract, as well as sanchez potentially. I have no problem signing a guy to round out the pen, but if that’s the case then show or mota has to go. They were both lousy this year, but I just don’t see omar cutting 3 million loose prior to seeing what he starts the season like. Don’t take that as me saying I can stand the guy.
    If all your starters average 6 innings per game, you’d need to find 486 innings from your pen during the course of the season, plus however many innings of extras are played. Divide that by your 7 guys and thats roughly 70 innings per reliever. That’s quite a bit of work. Your LOOGY and ROOGY don’t go a full inning most of the time, so you need to be able to use more arms. The only way to see what you have with your minor leagers is to play them. Had we been running that type of pen, what do you think the odds are that bell would have been traded. The issue is that he never got to pitch with any regularity in NY.
    Bell, Linndstrom, Owens, and Ring were never thought of in the Joba or Phil Hughes category, but would they really have looked that bad in NY for stints this year? That said, who is to say that those guys aren’t there right now. Counting on guys like Collazo, Muniz, and Smith as your back end of the the pen guys would save more money to be used on a mo or cordero. If they are not succesful, we can try guys like pelfrey, mulvey, humber, raustich, or marcos carvajal (now departed). You can always find a decent reliever who gets DFA’d mid season. These guys don’t tend to have a ton of innings usually, and can help suck up innings in july and august to keep your pen fresh.
  10. joe October 19, 2007 at 9:37 pm
    Please don’t bring up Carvajal ever again. He may never turn out to be anything, but the fact that the Mets dropped him to make room for Brian Lawrence just turns my stomach.
  11. isuzudude October 22, 2007 at 9:03 am
    Should this be further cause for alarm?

    Look under “Roster Turnover Ahead” section.

  12. Micalpalyn October 23, 2007 at 10:37 am

    This is a difficult topic. Actually as I was looking at the subject (again, for the 10th time) i saw another hole. In order to look at the job in continuity perhaps you should include 2004-2005 offseason- Now THAT was throwing paint!

  13. joe October 23, 2007 at 11:05 am
    Hmm … maybe we should look at that offseason.

    When exactly did Omar take over?

  14. Micalpalyn October 23, 2007 at 12:14 pm
    Omar was hired after Howe was booted. So he has had 3 off seasons.

    In the first he did nothing of note I suspect because the Mets were cleaning house of big contracts, Piazza’s included.

    BUT of note: Bullpen: He had Looper who mauspiciously BLEEEEW Pedro’s first start, but brought in several un-notables including Ro-hern, Padilla, feliciano (?), and Danny graves.

    NOTE 2: His main job was to re-make the image of the team, which he did with Beltran, Cairo, Pedro, and Mink. Also safeguard the development of Reyes and Wright.