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:
Acquired Via Trade
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
Acquired Via Trade:
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.