Ok, so the next group of Mets to look at is the bullpen. This group could be a real strength for the Mets this year, but it could just as easily become a liability. Either way, there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered.
The one player with the best guarantee of a spot is the closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Frankie is coming off a 2010 year that ended premature with his tearing a ligament in his thumb during a scuffle with his girlfriend's father. While the legal fallout from that incident hasn't yet resolved (and hopefully won't be a distraction during the year), his thumb is reported to be fully healed, and shouldn't affect him too much. While Rodriguez is technically in the last year of his contract, he has a vesting option for 2012. The vesting option, which would result in him being paid $17.5 million for 2012 (more than Mariano Rivera ever earned in one season), come into effect if Rodriguez finishes (not saves) 55 games. Games Finished is an MLB statistic that is awarded to the relief pitcher who is last to pitch for a team in a given game. If used as the closer all year, Rodriguez is likely to hit the 55 games number, as the only year in the past six that he hasn't was his injury-shortened 2010. Either way, Rodriguez will be the closer at the beginning of the year, and, he still is one of the best closers in baseball.
Also extremely likely to make the team (yeah, past Frankie, everyone's only extremely likely at best) are D.J. Carrasco, Bobby Parnell and Taylor Buchholz. Carrasco was the Mets' only off-season free agent acquisition to whom they gave a multi-year deal, as he got a 2 year contract. Carrasco split 63 games between Pittsburgh and Arizona last year, finishing at 3-2/3.68 in 78.1 IP. Carrasco gives the Mets the ability to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, and while he'll be one of the primary late inning guys, he'll also probably pitch multiple innings a number of times.
Parnell finally realized his potential in the second half of last year, and after starting the season as Buffalo's closer, came up to the Mets and posted a 2.83 ERA with 33 K in 35 innings. More significantly, Parnell showed a sizzling fastball that was reaching triple digits at times, and showed a pretty good slider at times. The question for Parnell is if he can get movement on his fastball, and if he can develop his off-speed pitches enough to keep hitters honest. Buchholz was also signed in the offseason, given a $600 K deal, as well as a $400 K roster bonus and $40 K bonuses for appearing in a series of thresholds of games.
Buchholz is one of many Mets coming off of injuries, as he didn't appear in a game in the Majors in 2009 and only pitched 9 games in 2010. If he can get back to the form of his 2008 season, his salary will have been a good investment. In '08, he ended up 6-6 with a 2.17 ERA in 66.1 innings. He also posted only 18 walks to 56 strikeouts. I'd take that as a middle reliever.
Tim Byrdak is appearing more and more to be a lock, as he'll give the Mets a LOOGY (Lefty, one out guy). If you look around the NL East, there becomes a clear need for a lefty specialist. The Phillies feature Howard, Utley and Ibanez, the Braves have Heyward, and so on. He only signed a minor-league deal, so he'll be on the team for next to nothing. He's been pretty consistent since 2007, averaging a 3.46 ERA with 50 IP in 60 games. His walk to strikeout ratio is slightly worrisome, with about 46 strikeouts to 28 walks over that period. He should be a solid part of the 'pen.
After these five, there appears to be six players fighting for two spots. It seems like the two front-runners for now are Jason Isringhausen and Pedro Beato. Isringhausen (this is getting to make me sound like a broken record) is coming off of an injury, that's limited his playing over the past two years, as all he's played in that time is 9 games in 2009. However, before that from 2000 to 2008, Isringhausen was one of the elite closers in all of baseball. Those nine years saw him average 32 saves a year during that period, and 56 strikeouts in 61 innings each year. The ironic part of Isringhausen making the team would be that he originally came up as a top prospect in the Mets system in the mid-90s, part of the fabled "Generation K" group of three pitchers who were supposed to lead the Mets back to the greatness that they achieved in the late 80s, but, of course, never did.
Beato is in the opposite end of his career. He was initially drafted by the Mets in the 17th round of the 2005 draft, didn't sign, and then drafted again in the 1st round of the 2006 draft by the Orioles. He underwhelmed as a starter through his first four years in the minors, then he was switched to the bullpen last year, and flourished as Bowie's closer, finishing with a 2.11 ERA and a 2.63 K/BB ratio in 59.2 innings. The Mets selected him in the offseason during the Rule 5 draft, and he would need to make the team and remain on either the 25-man roster or the disabled list the whole year, or else be offered back to the Orioles. With this in mind, he's likely to make the team in order to stay under Mets control.
The next two players who would be the next most likely to make the team would be Pat Misch and Manny Acosta. Misch would make the team for his flexibility - he can make starts (6 GS in the majors and 23 for Buffalo). Misch is out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers if he doesn't make the team, and would be susceptible to being claimed by another team. Misch was excellent in Buffalo, finishing at 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA during those 23 starts, with 99 walks and only 23 walks in 150.2 innings. He also pitched well in the majors, and despite the fact that he was only 0-4, he did have a 3.82 ERA in 37.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and only 4 walks. He would be a good part of the bullpen, but it seems he may be victim of a numbers crunch.
Acosta is in a similar situation as far as being victim of the numbers. Acosta's skill set is similar to that of Beato, yet he's going to be 30 this year. Acosta excelled with the Mets last year, as he ended up 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and 42 K/18 BB in 39.2 innings after posting a 3.47 ERA and 36 K/15 BB in 36.1 innings in Buffalo. Acosta is also out of options, and would also have to clear waivers, making him susceptible to being claimed. Acosta doesn't have the flexibility, and also provides a very similar skill set to many other players more likely to make the team. Probably ends up on the outside looking in.
The two other people players who have an outside shot at making the team are Mike O'Connor and Blaine Boyer. O'Connor could make the team as a lefty specialist if things change. He played all of last year in Buffalo, and was successful, ending at 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 70.2 innings, and a 70 to 17 K/BB ratio. Boyer pitched for Arizona last year, and posted a 4.26 ERA in 57 innings, including a 29/29 K/BB ratio. Both O'Connor and Boyer are on minor league deals, and will probably be the foundation of the Bisons bullpen, and will be on standby to come up to the Mets should the need arise.
Mets Spring Training Statistics:
Francisco Rodriguez - 0-0, 0.00, 7 G, 1/1 SV, 7.2 IP, 4 H, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 8 K
D.J. Carrasco - 1-1, 4.63, 5 G (1 GS), 11.2 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
Bobby Parnell - 1-1, 5.40, 8 G, 8.1 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 9 K
Taylor Buchholz - 0-0, 0.00, 9 G, 1/1 SV, 12.0 IP, 9 H, 2 HBP, 4 BB, 7 K
Tim Byrdak - 0-0, 0.00, 7 G, 2/2 SV, 7.1 IP, 4 H, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 5 K
Jason Isringhausen - 1-0, 1.50, 6 G, 6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 HR, 2 HBP, 3 BB, 3 K
Pedro Beato - 0-0, 3.72, 9 G, 9.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 3 BB, 4 K
Pat Misch - 2-0, 4.32, 5 G (2 GS), 16.2 IP, 16 H, 10 R (8 ER), 2 HR, 1 HBP, 3 BB, 7 K
Manny Acosta - 0-0, 2.35, 6 G, 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R (2 ER), 3 BB, 8 K
Mike O'Connor - 0-0, 5.79, 7 G, 4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R (3 ER), 1 BB, 5 K
Blaine Boyer - 0-0, 1.13, 7 G, 8.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 7 K