Forget Cliff Lee, Mets Must Bolster Bullpen Via Trade

Matt Esposito@@mattaespositoCorrespondent IJuly 4, 2010

NEW YORK - JUNE 23:  Francisco Rodriguez #75 of the New York Mets pitches against the Detroit Tigers at Citi Field on June 23, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

With the Mets starting rotation in a groove right now, all eyes are becoming trained on what could be a more pressing issue. The bullpen has gradually begun to cost the Mets games. The issue has flown under the radar because of the propensity of fans to attack the pitching of Johan Santana and to focus too much on acquiring a big time starter like Cliff Lee; a move that might not even be possible.

The fact of the matter is the Mets would clearly benefit from adding an arm like Lee to the rotation, but for the Mets to be a capable contender down the stretch this year, they absolutely must add a reliable arm to the bullpen. Inking Brian Bruney to a minor league deal barely covers any holes that the big league bullpen presents.

One might call it hitting the panic switch too quickly, but Francisco Rodriguez has recently been one of the Mets biggest enemies. It goes beyond his numbers. K-Rod's ERA looks good at 2.63, but of late, every time he takes the mound, he seems to be allowing hits or letting multiple batters on base because of erratic control.

He is giving up hits much more often than he ever has and is causing heart attacks amongst Mets fans. His four blown saves during the the first half of the year are putting him on pace for more than he has ever recorded in a season.

Behind K-Rod, the Mets bullpen isn't entirely deep. The Mets are getting plenty of help from Pedro Feliciano, and Bobby Parnell has settled in surprisingly nicely. Fernando Nieve is beginning to get it together, but between him and Ryota Igarashi, the Mets could do much better. They need a true setup man.

A possible remedy to this budding issue would be for the Mets to focus their trading endeavors on a hard-throwing arm for the bullpen, rather than the rotation. The Mets rotation has been hitting their spots lately, and it has been a bullpen that lacks depth that has struggled to push the Mets to victory on a more regular basis.

The Mets could follow this kind of plan to address their pitching staff. They could likely trade first base prospect Nick Evans straight up for Kevin Millwood of the Baltimore Orioles. In Millwood, the Mets receive an experienced veteran arm that has a positive track record pitching in the NL East.

Millwood's numbers are ugly with the O's right now, but he has expressed interest in pitching for the Mets. Being back on a contender could bring out the extra effort from Millwood.

With Millwood filling out the back of the rotation, the Mets would have the luxury of moving Hisanori Takahashi back into the bullpen, a place where he had originally been effective. He adds depth to the pen and gives the Mets a second left-handed option. Takahashi will be able to eat innings as well.

The chips would then be in place for them to put together a package consisting of names like Fernando Martinez or Wilmer Flores, alongside another prospect or two. The Mets could use a prospect package to attempt to trade for relievers on the block like Heath Bell or Kerry Wood.

Matt Thornton or Octavio Dotel could even be on the Mets radar. At the very least, the relief pitcher market should be tested to see who is actually out there.

The Mets starting rotation has looked very good for the most part. A Cliff Lee-type pitcher would power it up more, but the Mets would be left with a similarly weak bullpen who's ability to finish things off would remain in question.

Adding a formidable relief arm would not only drastically improve the Mets bullpen, but it would provide them a backup plan in case K-Rod continues these unforeseen struggles. The Mets front office should seriously consider trading for a relief pitcher as much, if not more than they are considering a deal for a starter.

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