With the recent news that the New York Mets kicked the tires on free-agent reliever Grant Balfour, it got me thinking about remaining available relievers, and whether there are any viable options out there for the Mets.
However, "viable for the Mets" is a tricky thing to define.
We can read the tea leaves and assume that the Mets are looking for a veteran reliever to complement their young bullpen arms. I think ideally they'd like to add a veteran guy with closing experience as insurance for Bobby Parnell, who's expected to be ready to go on opening day after undergoing season-ending neck surgery last year.
Ideally, I think they'd like to add someone who can fill the role that Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins held in past years, a guy who can mentor the younger guys in the pen and be a good clubhouse presence, primarily.
A strong performance on the mound, like the one Hawkins gave the Mets last year, would certainly be welcome as well.
The biggest obstacle towards narrowing down who or what is a "viable" option for the Mets, however, is the typical Wilponian budgetary problem. We simply don't have any idea of how much the Mets can spend on a reliever, and how much they can spend, period.
If signing a guy like Balfour would've eliminated any chance of fitting a guy like Stephen Drew into the budget, that would've made me roll my eyes. If there's enough room left in the budget to sign Drew and a guy like Fernando Rodney, great. But if there's only enough money for one or the other, I'd much rather allocate those resources towards Drew than a relief pitcher.
Chris McShane over on Amazin' Avenue wrote up a nice rundown of the remaining available bullpen arms, (minus Balfour and David Aardsma, who have since found new homes) and I want to highlight a few guys who intrigue me. I'm looking at right-handers for the most part because I like the available group of righties better than the lefties, and I'm a sucker for alliteration.
It's the little things.
The biggest name on the list is probably Fernando Rodney. Rodney has plenty of closing experience (172 career saves) and there's been talk about the Mets having at least some degree of interest in him at the right price. Of course, "at the right price" is always a relevant qualifier that ties into the viability factor.
There's a lot to like about Rodney, who in my opinion has the highest potential upside of this remaining crop of relievers. He had an all-time great relief season in 2012, with video game numbers across the board.
That season, Rodney had a 0.60 ERA, with a 2.13 FIP, 57.9% ground ball percentage, 0.78 WHIP and a how-is-this-even-real 641 ERA+. I quadruple-checked that ERA+ figure because it just doesn't seem possible. Rodney allowed 43 hits in 74.2 IP that year and had a 5.07 K/BB ratio. He had 1.8 BB/9 and 5.3 BB% that year, compared to career marks of 4.5 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%.
In 2013, he returned to mortality, with a respectable 3.38 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 50.6 GB%, 1.34 WHIP and 113 ERA+. His problems with walking guys that's plagued him for most of his MLB career were a factor again last year, as his BB/9 crept back up to 4.9 and his BB% rose to 12.4% again.
He's a solid pitcher, but the walks are troublesome, as is the factor of Tampa Bay letting him walk in free agency. I have a general rule of thumb that I go by when it comes to Rays players: always beware a player the Rays discard. That's a big red flag for me. The most I would offer Rodney is something along the lines of a two-year, $10 million deal. Like I mentioned earlier, that's money I'd rather allocate towards Stephen Drew than a relief pitcher at this point.
Another guy that interests me among free agent relievers is Joel Hanrahan. He's got closing experience, (100 career saves on the nose) and his value is pretty low after a disastrous 2013 season with the Red Sox, in which he got off to a bad start and then blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John Surgery.
Hanrahan reportedly doesn't want to negotiate with any teams until he's further along in his rehab process, but it's possible that he'd be willing to take an incentive-laden minor-league deal. He's probably aiming for a late-April to mid-May return to the mound.
Disregarding his 7.1-inning stint with the Red Sox as an irrelevant sample, I'm looking primarily at his three full seasons with the Pirates, 2010-2012, in my evaluation. I think it's without question that 2011 was his best season. He saved 40 games, he made the All-Star team, he pretty much put up career-best production across the board.
However, I'm not sure he was really better in 2012 than he was back in 2010. In fact, his 2012 season is pretty alarming to me. He had a 2.72 ERA in 2012, a full run better than his 3.62 ERA in 2010, but that's about it.
Everything else? Not very encouraging.
That 2.72 ERA in 2012 was coupled with a 4.45 FIP, and he actually had a negative fWAR despite making the All-Star team again and saving 36 games in 40 chances. Hanrahan struggled mightily with walks and home runs that year, but a career-best 89.7% left on base percentage (LOB%) and career-best .225 BABIP helped mask those struggles big time.
His ground ball rate plummeted from a career-high 52.4% in his dominant 2011 season to just 38.7% in 2012. His fly ball percentage jumped from a career-low 28.6% in 2011 to 45.1% in 2012. His home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) saw a dramatic jump as well, from a career-low 1.9% in 2011 to 12.5% in 2012, a number he hadn't approached since his Washington days.
All in all, it gives me some serious qualms about guaranteeing Hanrahan any more than $3-4 million dollars, and even that might be a bigger risk than necessary. He'll probably have his share of suitors within the coming weeks, and it'll be interesting to see if he can regain anything close to his 2011 form.
Another guy who's somewhat similar to Hanrahan is Andrew Bailey. Like Hanrahan, Bailey was a successful reliever before the Red Sox traded for him, and like Hanrahan, things just didn't work out for Bailey in Boston. He too suffered an arm injury last season and won't be ready for the start of the 2014 season. Bailey's injury was more serious, a shoulder problem that might keep him out until the All-Star break. He might be worth a minimal-risk minor-league deal, but I'm not sure how high his 2014 upside is, quite frankly.
The last guy I'd take a serious look at it is 29-year-old Mitchell Boggs, the former Cardinals right-hander who most recently played for the Rockies. He's a guy who’s reportedly been on the Mets radar since being non-tendered by Colorado in December.
Boggs doesn’t fit the mold of the “veteran mentor-type with closing experience,” but I’m pretty intrigued with what he can bring to the table and he might be a nice bounce-back candidate as an affordable set-up man or middle relief option.
Boggs has never really been asked to close much in his six-year career, but he did have 34 holds in 2012, and he’s got a career 52.6% ground ball percentage in 316.2 innings pitched. For whatever reason, he had an awful 2013 with the Cardinals and Rockies, and that might keep his price down to a team-friendly minor-league deal.
His 2010-2012 seasons were pretty similar and pretty good, as he posted ERAs of 3.61, 3.56, and 2.21 in those seasons with a FIP of 3.88, 3.44, and 3.42 respectively in those years. All three of those years he was within the 7.0 K/9 range, with a K/BB ratio that climbed from 1.93 to 2.29 to 2.76.
I honestly have no idea what happened to Boggs in 2013. He had a ghastly 8.10 ERA/7.42 FIP in 23.1 combined innings with St. Louis and Colorado, and he even struggled in the minors after being demoted, with a 6.07 combined ERA in 46 minor-league innings.
That being said, I think Mitchell Boggs would be the reliever I’d target if I were the Mets, all things considered. I bet he’d be really affordable, and I’m not sure if many teams noticed how well he pitched in 2010, 2011, and 2012. I’d love to bring him to camp and see if he regain that form, and there’s really no downside to giving him a shot.
While the Mets seemingly would prefer to get that experienced veteran mentor type like Isringhausen or Hawkins, personally I’d just like to have as many quality arms in the bullpen as possible. Bullpen performance is the most unpredictable aspect of an unpredictable game, and I’m fine with rolling the dice with young high-upside guys in lieu of an experienced veteran or two.