With Mets pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Saturday, it's time to continue dissecting the 2014 roster. This is the fifth of a seven-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at the projected starters and backup options heading into the season. Next up: bullpen.
NEW YORK -- Outside their mini-splurge on Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch two winters ago, the Mets have generally attempted to build their bullpen inexpensively under general manager Sandy Alderson. Relying largely on young players and veteran free agents coming off injury, the Mets have enjoyed small pockets of success over the years -- LaTroy Hawkins' career resurgence, for example, or Bobby Parnell's continued development.
But more often than not, they have seen poor bullpen performance overall. The Mets finished 22nd in the Majors in bullpen ERA last season (3.98) after ranking 29th and 28th in Alderson's first two years as GM. For every Parnell or Hawkins, there have been several relievers who weren't quite so successful.
The process did not change in Alderson's fourth offseason with the Mets, so the club simply must hope the results do. Despite Hawkins' departure via free agency and their competitive offer to former A's closer Grant Balfour -- who chose the Rays instead -- the Mets did not import a single veteran reliever on a big league contract this winter. That could change by Opening Day, as Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Madson and others are still available, but any bullpen move the Mets make will likely be relatively insignificant.
That means the onus will fall on Parnell, who is coming off September surgery to replace a herniated disc in his neck, to lead a group composed almost entirely of youngsters. Other than veteran pickup Kyle Farnsworth, who is likely to make the team as a non-roster invitee, the Mets will rely largely on players who have less than a year of big league service time.
At 29, Parnell is the veteran of the bunch, and in 2013, he saved 22 games in 26 chances with a 2.16 ERA. But even he is no sure thing after his surgery. Though Parnell insists he will be ready for Opening Day -- "Everything is feeling great, no pain," he told reporters -- no one can know for certain until he begins throwing competitively once again.
"I mean, I haven't done it yet, so obviously, you want to know," Parnell said. "But we're doing little things every day to get to that point. I've had no setbacks or pain or anything like that."
The most intriguing arms behind Parnell belong to Jeurys Familia and Vic Black, both of whom can reach the upper 90s with their fastballs. Familia, 24, is fully recovered from midseason cleanout surgery on his right elbow, and the Mets will give him every chance to make the Opening Day roster.
Black, 25, should also make the team after a strong stretch run in 2013, after the Mets traded Marlon Byrd to acquire him and infield prospect Dilson Herrera last August. Black, Familia and Parnell give the Mets potential for something they haven't had in years: a successful tag team of hard-throwing pitchers at the back end of the bullpen. Then there is Farnsworth, next in line for closing duties should Parnell falter.
From the left side, 32-year-old Scott Rice will be back after his successful rookie season ended in surgery to repair a sports hernia, giving the Mets a softer-throwing weapon. Josh Edgin could also make the team as a second lefty, provided the highly touted rookie Jack Leathersich does not supplant him.
The Mets have many additional options from the right side, as Gonzalez Germen, Ryan Reid, Carlos Torres, Jeff Walters, Joel Carreno, Cory Mazzoni and a handful of others will compete for one, maybe two open spots in the bullpen. The Mets are particularly intrigued by Walters, an older prospect at the age of 26 but one with a track record of success in the Minors.
But most jobs are wide open heading into camp.
"We've got a lot of good young arms that we like -- they just don't have much experience," Alderson said recently. "Acquiring someone with some experience would give us some comfort going into Spring Training, but we don't want to preclude some of our younger pitchers from getting a solid opportunity either."