A conversation with a Phillies fan who believes that a bullpen of Ryan Madsen, Tom Gordon, Brad Lidge, and lefty J.C. Romero should be pretty solid prompted this writer to think about how the Mets' 2008 bullpen will shape up.
First, let us examine successful Mets bullpens of the past.
The tandem of Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell were as tough as any relievers in 1986 and the surrounding era, but back then a team only needed a couple of dominant guys in the ‘pen since starters worked deeper into games.
Additionally, neither one was concerned with being branded the “closer” so manager Davey Johnson was able to pick and choose his spots based on matchups and rest.
The 1999 and 2000 teams had a nice little setup. Working backwards, finesse lefty John Franco would close and hard-throwing Armando Benitez would work the eighth. (Their roles would be swapped when Franco got hurt and Benitez actually had a successful run as the closer.) Slider-specialist Turk Wendell would work the seventh and southpaw Dennis Cook would be sprinkled in to face some tough lefties. Pat Mahomes provided long-relief when needed.
More recently, the first-half version of the 2006 Mets bullpen had been quite successful, and also contained some of the same characters that we have today.
Billy Wagner was the closer, with righties Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez working the seventh and eighth respectively. Submarining righty Chad Bradford would come in as needed to get out a tough righty or throw a double-play ball.
2006 also saw the emergence of Pedro Feliciano as a tough lefty specialist. Lefty Darren Oliver provided long-relief and hard-throwing righty Jorge Julio mainly served as a mop-up guy until he was dealt to Arizona for El Duque.
Conceivably, the 2008 bullpen could see Wagner, Sanchez, Heilman, and Feliciano take on their 2006 roles.
Side-arming righty Joe Smith most resembles Bradford and took on that role in early 2007, but quickly became over exposed. New import Matt Wise hay-specialist role.
Jorge Sosa held righties to a .202 average last season; however his experience as a starter may have Willie Randolph leaning towards using him in a longer-relief role. A strong camp by Smith could earn him back the righty-specialist role, with Sosa being given the long relief job and Wise being stuck with mop-up duty unless he proves that he is more effective than Sanchez who has not faced batters since July of 2006.
One name that has not been mentioned is that of lefty Scott Schoeneweis. He was very inconsistent last season, and was secondary to Feliciano as the left-handed option.
Due to his relatively big contract, Schoeneweis will likely occupy a slot in the bullpen, perhaps depriving a promising youngster or a veteran like Tony Armas Jr. of a role.
Rookie Steven Register was the Mets' most recent Rule V pick-up and would also have to occupy a 25-man roster spot or be shipped back to the Rockies unless Colorado is not interested.
To quote the late Bob Murphy, let’s hope that this bullpen contributes to a “happy recap” at the conclusion of man of the Mets contests this season.