The Mets’ signing of Kyle Farnsworth during the offseason came with little fanfare. It was a classic Sandy Alderson veteran player signing; bring in a veteran on a minor league contract and have him fight for a spot on the team. However, as spring training progressed, unlike last year’s signings of Marlon Byrd and Latroy Hawkins, Farnsworth appeared to be on the verge of the end of his career. He looked like a lot of veterans that hit those final days, hanging on, but with diminished ability and the clock appearing to be ticking away towards retirement. His fastball, the one pitch Farnsworth had been known for throughout his career, a pitch that regularly used to hit 100 MPH, had fallen to below 90 at times. His numbers were bad, a nine plus ERA and his confidence on the mound appeared gone. The former intimidating presence, with the black rimmed glasses, who was major league baseball’s closest thing to Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn from “Major League”, seemed to be gone. As the bullpen came together in the spring training, Farnsworth looked destined for retirement or, at best, a trip to the minor leagues to start the year.
However, things changed quickly as the season began. Bobby Parnell, returning from neck surgery, blew a save and soon after, talk about pain in his elbow flooded the news feeds. Jose Valverde, the other veteran minor league free agent in the bullpen, who had won a spot as a seventh or eighth inning guy, was thrust into the closer role and, low and behold, the Mets promoted Farnsworth when Parnell went on the disabled list.
The move was universally questioned as the Mets had a multitude of young arms, and supposed late inning man Vic Black, at Triple-A. Why would they promote a player who, multiple reports stated, was mulling retirement during spring training and was obviously diminished? The questions didn’t stop after he made his season debut on April 2nd, allowing two hits and one run in the 9th inning of a five to one loss to the Washington Nationals. In fact, it lead to questions about Terry Collins management style and his preference for veterans over youth, like Jeurys Familia or Gonzalez Germen.
Since then, things have changed. Farnsworth has helped stabilize the bullpen. He’s pitched in four games as the eighth inning bridge to Valverde and allowed two hits and one walk, with no runs allowed over those four innings. His fastball has returned to usable form, not the 100 MPH from the past, but topping off in the mid-nineties. Without him, the Mets bullpen would not have gotten into gear as it did against the Reds and then the Braves, as one of the most underappreciated slots in any bullpen is that eighth inning bridge.
Will Farnsworth be this year’s Latroy Hawkins? It’s impossible to tell. It’s hard to see the Mets being able to rely on their veteran eighth and ninth inning combo for the entire year, but they probably won’t have to. Familia has looked better after a rough start, and has the stuff to be that late inning connection in the eighth or ninth. Germen, despite a terrible spring, has been excellent to start the year and should be a reliable seventh or eighth inning piece moving forward. Black, Jeff Walters, Jack Leathersich, and possibly even Jacob DeGrom, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard, will also be reinforcements for the bullpen sometime this season. The key to the year was to get through the first few months, so that the Mets could let Black find his way and not lose arbitration years on the other young arms at Triple-A, but when Parnell went down, it looked like they were going to have to dig into those players sooner than later, that is, until Farnsworth’s resurgence.
You could argue that Valverde has been the early season bullpen savior, but there already were expectations that Valverde would be a key part of the bullpen anyway. No one expected Farnsworth to be here, much less be successful. Hopefully it continues long enough that either the Mets don’t have to worry about the eighth inning for 2014 or that Farnsworth can get the team far enough into the year for Familia or Germen to take over the role or one of the young minor league arms be brought up to hold the mantle. For now, thank you Mr. Farnsworth. The Mets wouldn’t have one the three game sets against the Reds and Braves without you.