Congratulations to Omar Minaya for shortening 2009 Mets games to seven innings. Indeed, the one-two punch of “K-Putz” has the potential to be the most effective since the Mariano Rivera – John Wetteland duo of 1996. However, there is still the matter of the innings one through seven.
The Mets didn’t get the innings-eating Derek Lowe to plug up the front end of their rotation, and as a result, it looks like another season of starters who struggle to get into, and through, the sixth inning. So even with K-Putz waiting to shut the door, Mets games will still be a crapshoot during the sixth and seventh frames. For one, Pedro Feliciano won’t suddenly evolve from his ideal role of LOOGY — been there, tried that, it didn’t work. Sean Green might be helpful, or he may be another Jon Adkins. Joe Smith is gone. Brian Stokes is back, but can he be as good through 65-70 games as he was in his two dozen appearances of last year? A couple of Rule 5 picks might have a chance to stick — Darren O’Day and Rocky Cherry. Connor Robertson — the guy the Mets received in return for Scott Schoeneweis — might be worse than Adkins. What all these names tell us most is, the sixth and the seventh innings are no more a slam dunk than they were last year.
Luckily, there is still time to rectify the situation. First, there are a number of intriguing free agent middle relievers looking for a new team. For example, Juan Cruz, Brandon Lyon, and Jason Isringhausen are unemployed. 2008 Mets Luis Ayala, Ricardo Rincon, and Matt Wise are waiting for an ST invite. Chad Cordero auditioned for a bunch of teams, and I’m stunned that Omar Minaya hasn’t locked him up yet. Most recently, the Red Sox DFA’d David Aardsma, a guy who I clamored for this time last year.
My favorites are Cordero, Rincon, Ayala, and Aardsma. Cordero because he’s a low-risk, high-reward type, with a strong competitive fire. I like Rincon because he’s just as good as any other available LOOGY, but will come at a fraction of the cost and will require only a one-year commitment. Ayala is another competitor who was misplaced as a setup man/closer last year, but would be perfect as a 6th/7th inning guy. Aardsma is a diamond in the rough, a late bloomer type in the mold of a Dan Wheeler.
Before you laugh about Aardsma’s 5.55 ERA last year, understand that he pitched 24 of his 47 games in Fenway Park, which can have a dramatic effect on a pitcher’s mentality, focus, and performance. Before you write him off, consider his numbers outside of Fenway Park — 23 IP, 15 H, 19 K, 13 BB, 2.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP. Wow. That’s like, as good as Juan Cruz — and Aardsma did that in the AL East.
Obviously, the Mets’ biggest issue right now is located a #3 starter. But in the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few more cans of paint for the bullpen wall. Cordero would be a nice calculated gamble, and any one of the others would provide ample depth. What the Mets have done for middle relief, to this point, is change the names — that’s not necessarily the same as improving. As we know, change by itself is not always better. Picking up one or two quality arms will complete the bullpen overhaul, and make the ENTIRE relief corps a team strength.