“If you ain’t got a bullpen, you ain’t got nothin’” – Yogi Berra, 1973
In 2011, the Mets didn’t have nothin’.
Unless you’re a dominant team (like ’86) or a hapless collection (like…oh, never mind), the difference between being over .500 and under is a matter of a couple of wins. Last year, the Mets won 77 games and finished 4 games under the breakeven mark. That four-game swing can easily be hung on the pitching in general and the bullpen squad in particular. The cast – or castoffs, if you prefer – included Pedro Beato, D.J. Carrasco, Jason Isringhausen, Manny Acosta, Ryota Igarashi, Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell. Among them, they accounted for 19 blown saves and 10 additional losses which did not come in save situations. Of those blown saves, six of them came in games the Mets eventually won. So let’s say the blown-saves-and- losses combination could have been cut in half with better arms out there. That means a quality bullpen could have been the difference between a 77-win year and an 89-win, contending-for-the-wildcard year.
Entering spring 2012, Byrdak, Acosta, Carrasco, Beato and Parnell remain and only the first two are guaranteed spots on the roster. Beato – a Rule 5 signee last year, and thus obligated to be kept on the MLB roster all year – and Parnell both have options, so they could be taking their act to Buffalo by April 1. Carrasco could be jettisoned depending on his spring. No wonder Sandy Alderson spent most of the measly cash available to him on bullpen help. The new names are Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch.
Now, I know bullpens are a crapshoot, year-to-year. There’s no guarantee that yesterday’s ace fireman won’t turn into this year’s arsonist. But Alderson did all he could to improve the club with the team’s meager resources – the positions were basically set before they got home from the Winter Meetings, and while starting pitching remains shaky at best, anything of quality available on the free-agent market was well out of his price range. The ‘pen was the only place to turn. Ramirez came on board as part of the Andres Torres trade, and Francisco was picked up relatively cheaply. The head-scratcher is the Rauch one-year, $3.5 million contract. Rauch wasn’t particularly effective last year, pitching to a 1.35 WHIP over 53 innings. Perhaps Sandy was paying for Rauch’s 6’10”, 290-lb.frame and creative body-art.