Earlier his offseason, I wrote that the New York Mets bullpen was a bigger question mark than the starting rotation.
The reason being that the Mets lost two huge bullpen arms in Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi, but only one starting rotation piece in Johan Santana.
Now, for most teams, the starting rotation will always be more important than the bullpen, but not in the Mets' case. Right now, the Mets rotation consists of Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese. Offseason acquisition Chris Young will most likely take the No. 4 spot and there are a few candidates for the fifth starter, with Chris Capuano the early favorite.
Without Santana, the starting rotation has a lot of question marks and a strong bullpen will be important to offset a weak rotation.
Both Young and Capuano are coming off injuries that severely limited their workload last season; in other words, pitching deep into games might not be an option. Niese looked great at times last season, but is still adjusting to a full season's worth of starts.
So, while the Mets might know who will comprise their starting rotation, they don't know what it's capable of. They're going to need a strong bullpen to compensate.
The good news is, there are a ton of arms competing for spots in the bullpen in Spring Training. But will manager Terry Collins be able to sift through the dirt to find the gold?
Because of their lack of depth in the starting rotation, the Mets are likely to carry the extra pitcher. That leaves seven bullpen spots because Francisco Rodriguez will certainly be the closer.
Excluding starting rotation candidates Chris Capuano and Oliver Perez, there are 13 potential bullpen arms in camp right now. Collins has said D.J. Carrasco will get a look at starting pitcher, so it could be 12.
Having a lot of guys competing for spots in camp isn't anything unique, but given the Mets' need for a solid bullpen, it's important to find the best candidates.
One guy who should get a good look is Manuel Alvarez. In three minor league stops last season, Alvarez went 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA. He struck out 84 batters, while walking just 12 in 78.2 IP. He's a big right-hander at 5'11", 200 pounds and at just 25-years-old, there's a lot of potential there.
The Mets' rule-five pick, Pedro Beato, is another interesting option. After putting up rather pedestrian numbers over four years in the minor leagues, Beato really seemed to find himself last season in Double-A. In 59.2 IP, Beato went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 19 walks. He pitches to contact (7.4 H/9 IP and a 1.14 WHIP) but his 2.63 K/BB ratio is good to see.
Falling under the low-risk/high-reward category, Taylor Buchholz is definitely someone to keep an eye on. After posting an impressive 2.17 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 66.1 IP with the Colorado Rockies in 2008, Buchholz missed all of the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery and pitched just 12 innings last season.
Will the Mets bullpen be a strength or weakness in 2011?
If Buchholz can prove he's healthy and back to his 2008 form, the Mets could have found a real diamond in the bargain bin this offseason.
Along with returning players like Manny Acosta and Bobby Parnell, along with a healthy and motivated Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets have the potential for a great bullpen.
The Mets even added Jason Isringhausen earlier this week, for whatever reason—call it nostalgia.
The most important goal is to find a lefty reliever to replace the oft-used Pedro Feliciano. The Mets added Taylor Tankersley and Tim Byrdak on minor league deals, and of course Oliver Perez is still lurking around, hoping to find a role on this team.
There's a lot to like about the potential Mets bullpen in 2011; lots of young, strong arms mixed with veterans looking for a resurgence.
Hopefully, Terry Collins will be able to find the best pieces and build a strong relief core, because they're certainly going to need it.