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Analysis: The Bullpen So Far

Mike SteffanosMonday, December 18, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

Given the recent losses of Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver, there is certainly some concern among Mets fans that what was the strength of the team in 2006 may well be weaker heading into 2007. Here's a look at the candidates for the bullpen so far. For the purposes of this discussion I have ranked them, but it should obviously be understood that my rankings are not necessarily the way the Mets see things.

1. Billy Wagner (L) - Closer
I doubt there will be much debate over this. Wagner's job is to close games. After getting off to a brutal start that featured a memorable meltdown against the Yankees, Wagner settled down and did a good job -- saving 40 games, including 18 in a row and converting 26 of his last 27. That's the bottom line; there are no style points in closing games.

Having said that, Wagner always seemed to allow runners on base, and often took Mets fans to the edge of despair before saving the game. After saving a pair of games against the Dodgers in the Division series, Wagner was unimpressive against the Cardinals in the League Championship series, getting lit up in a game 2 loss and allowing the Cards a pair in the ninth that made a nail biter out of what should have been an easy game 6 win. Given his adventures in closing many games, his injury history and his age (he'll turn 36 at the end of July), I think the Mets will do well to be grooming a potential replacement closer despite the 3 years left on Wagner's deal.

2. Aaron Heilman (R) - 8th Inning
Even though he very well may be elsewhere by the time the season starts, Heilman needs to be seen as the best option for the eighth until Duaner Sanchez proves he's all the way back. Heilman has good enough stuff to close games, although it would be difficult to make a closer out of a pitcher who's still convinced he's a starter.

After being supplanted by Duaner Sanchez last year, Heilman seemed to struggle in a 7th inning role, but then stepped back up when Sanchez went down. This proves that although it's clear he wants to start, he still does well when challenged. The problem I foresee is if Sanchez again unseats Heilman as the bridge to Wagner. Unless the Mets intend to try Heilman as a starter -- and it seems clear that they don't -- I don't think that sliding Aaron down to that seventh inning role will work any better this time around.

Ultimately what I think should happen is that the Mets should hold onto Heilman until Sanchez proves he's 100 percent. You can deal Aaron during the season as easily as you could in the offseason, since he is not a high-priced veteran.

3. Duaner Sanchez (R) - 8th Inning
I could see Sanchez splitting the eighth inning role with Heilman early in the year as he builds his arm strength back up. I think as long as he has no lingering after effects, he eventually moves back into the top set up role. I like Sanchez' confidence and fearlessness, and see him as the guy on the team most likely to slide into that closer role if something happens to Wagner.

Still, coming off major shoulder surgery, I would go slow with Sanchez if he struggles a little early on. A major question mark is regaining that low- to mid-90s velocity and being able to bring it on back to back days. By all accounts he should be able to recover fully, but pitcher's shoulders are funny things.

4. Pedro Feliciano (L) - 6th and 7th Inning
I would expect Feliciano to continue his role as the top lefty in the bullpen. He also did reasonably well against righties, which makes him a cut above the normal lefty specialist. He's capable of giving you a solid inning + when you need him.

5. Guillermo Mota (R) - 6th and 7th Inning
We'll see what Mota looks like when he returns from that suspension for the first 50 games. He won't be able to pitch even in the minors until that's over, so he'll have to try to stay sharp in those extended spring training games. He may not come back as that eighth inning option he was at the end of last year, but he should be able to adequately handle some of the innings Bradford took on in 2006, although he won't be as good against right-handers as Bradford was.

6. Ambiorix Burgos (R) - 5th and 6th Inning
Burgos has one of those electric arms, and if he learns what to do with it, he can easily move up in the bullpen rotation and ultimately make Heilman expendable. However, he is a young guy who was rushed to the majors, and has yet to prove that he can consistently retire major league hitters. His potential ranges anywhere from closer of the future to one of those "whatever happened to..." stories.

7. Dave Williams (L) - Long Relief
Williams seems like a good bet to step into that Darren Oliver role as long reliever, spot starter and extra lefty in the bullpen. Of course, he has a chance to win an actual rotation job.

8. Jon Adkins (R) - 5th and 6th Inning
Adkins has established himself as a reliable middle reliever, and should be able to fill that role here. He needs to cut down on the walks he gives up or he could wind up being unseated by others who possess more upside.

9. Juan Padilla (R) - 5th and 6th Inning
It's hard to predict what Padilla may do for the Mets in 2007. He's 30 years old and coming of Tommy John surgery. It often requires 16 months to fully bounce back from this procedure, which would take him into the middle of the season. There is also question as to whether his strong showing for 36 innings at the end of 2005 was somewhat of a fluke. His only other major league experience was in 2004 with the Reds and Yankees, and was much less successful.

He has a good changeup and seems fearless, but the rest of his stuff is the very definition of ordinary. Still, he's a guy you root for.

10. Jason Standridge (R) - 5th and 6th Inning
More likely to be providing bullpen insurance in New Orleans. He has a good arm but doesn't have a clue where it is going. Perhaps Rick Peterson can rescue his career.

Bullpen Wildcards (In No Particular Order)

  1. The Padres seem to have felt that Oliver Perez (L), who started in their organization, is more suited to the bullpen than as a starter. The Mets will give him a shot at a rotation slot in 2007, but it's not inconceivable he gets a look in the bullpen if he can't get straightened out as a starter.

  2. Steve Schmoll (R) is a submarine pitcher in the mold of Chad Bradford. He throws harder than Bradford, but has not found consistency in the minors. The Mets seem to like something about him, as they've kept him on the 40-man roster.

  3. 2006 Third Round Pick Joe Smith (R) is another right-handed submarine pitcher who throws hard, and can force himself into the team's thinking in the second half if he does well early in the year.

  4. If Orlando Hernandez (R) is replaced in the rotation eventually, he has enjoyed success in a relief role in the White Sox' championship run.

  5. Alay Soler (R) will likely compete for a job as either a starter or reliever this spring. Some think he's better suited for the 'pen.

  6. Newcomer Jason Vargas (L) will also be looked at for a starting job or bullpen role.

Also, both Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey can get a look for a bullpen role, although it's likely both will start the year in New Orleans as starters.

Despite the tough loss of Chad Bradford, this team certainly has the potential to field as good a bullpen in 2007 as they did in 2006. In fact, if everything were to go perfectly, it's easy to make a scenario where they are actually better. Sadly, perfect seldom occurs in team building, but at the very least we'd all do well to give this bullpen a fair chance to establish itself. Omar has taken a lot of heat for letting Bradford and Oliver go, and I'm not convinced this isn't very premature.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (16)

Nice analysis, as usual, Mike.

I'm still giving Omar the benefit of the doubt, but the Darren Oliver thing confuses me. It's not like he signed a 2- or 3-year deal. We very easily could have brought him back for the one cheap year he'll give the Angels. And why hope a guy can step up to replace him when you could have had the exact same guy? Seems like Omar gave Jose Valentin the respect he should have also given Darren Oliver. Both were old and on the verge of retirement, then were pleasant surprises in '06. If I had to choose, I would have given Oliver an extension and not Valentin.

Great job again.

1. Standridge/Adkins/Padilla/Burgos: As opposed to the past Omar has assembled a bunch of players with 2-3 yrs ML experience and said ..'2 of you make the club'. Ala Maine last yr, Standridge/Burgos could be left in a numbers game and demoted, only to take the first Southwest flight to NY if someone goes down. Also Omar likes releivers with 'options' (ring/Bell).

2. Schmoll; He was hardly a factor at AAA. Now he reminds me we just lost Flores.

3. Feliciano and Padilla have made career strides. Hopefully once again Mota will be a great missing piece in the Pen. But Burgos/Standridge could be the keys to the bullpen sucess next yr.

4. Soler: I cant say. I think he is a foreshadow of Matzusaka. But I think he should be dealt ala Bannister.

5. Ollie; Ollie is the #4 starter. The task is to gret him to repeat his delivery and keep his focus. I said it before, but I believe he has a higher ceiling than Barry Zito. He has been compared to El Sid, leaving hitters messed up. He as much as Glavine needs to get his 30 starts. The big thing for Ollie is where the umpires give him his window.

6.Vargas may be a project right now.

Nice run down. I see this and the youth of our outfield as strenghts to trade from,for a starter. There was talk about Joe Blanton or Danny Haren from the A's, both of them eat innings and throw strikes. If the price is right I could see one in our rotatation.

C Dubb - I thought the league was starting to catch up to Oliver a little as the season wore on, and long relievers are eminently replaceable. He pitched to a 6.39 ERA in August and a 7.15 ERA in September. Looking at his lifetime record, you have to wonder if he could have matched the year he had last year, or if it was somewhat of a fluke.

The real point is that Valentin was kept here to buy the Mets another year before they find a more long-term solution at 2B. There was already a replacement here for Oliver. Oliver will be 36 next year, Williams 28.
Ed - I'm not as convinced that Padilla has turned a corner as I am with Feliciano. Again, we're talking 36 games, and he was somewhat lucky stranding runners. Still, I like him and I hope he can do a good job. When I threw out the names of Perez and Soler and Vargas for the bullpen I was only talking possibilities.
Rev - I've heard the A's are looking for too much in return for their young starters.

I agree that thepen is again looking good. I see quality depth and do not believe the loss of Bradford is a big issue. I would love to see Heilman used in the 8th inning or as a starter. For some reason he does not rate that high with the organization and will end up as a 7th inning guy. I my opinion this is a waste of talent. If nothing else use him alot in presure situations to raise his value and then trade him for young, starting piter arms, or for a young, high quality catcher like Ianetta of the Rockies or Powell of the A's and a 2B/SS type like Barmes of the Rockies. The Mets farm system has no viable catcher and middle infielder on the horizon over the next two years to replace the aging LoDuca and Valentine.

I'd bet Heilman will be getting a lot of eighth innings early in the year until Sanchez proves he's all the way back. After that, I'm with you in that if they trade him, I hope it's for something they really need.

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Just read the metropolitans; he points we get 4 picks in the draft in the first 100 (94). ALL compensation for Ro-Hern and Bradford.....guys we picked off the scrap heap/release/waived by their teams. In irony we get 4 shots at diamond in the rough, for having took chances on pitchers who have revived in NY. .....

Looking at that list I am not so sure Williams makes it, especially if Zito is signed and Vargas makes the roster.

Just being the voice of minority opinion:
is my rotation at this moment. El Duque is insurance. And comes into the rotation as a 6th starter.

Soler is a WC. I think well of him, but I think he needs to be dealt to FLA (for Yusi Petit). I know unlikely. I dont know him as a reliever but that thought has intrigue. Ditto Vargas who has some nice flashes on his career bio of brilliance already as a starter.

Ollie and Glavine started opening day last yr. They are the only givens. What I like about Ollie is that last seasons NLCS success should carry over and his previous 2 yrs of success indicate he just needed a place where he wanted to be/was wanted.

Feliciano has the place Ro Hern occupied. But Standridge-Burgos-Smith-Padilla-Adkins-Pelfrey to me are vying for 3/4 slots so far (wags-Heilman-Sanchez-Feliciano are in). No doubt Omar adds 3 more arms for that race.

Ed - Just calling it as I see it right now. I do like Williams for the spot starter/long relief role. He throws strike and is still fairly young and cheap. Still, of course he is not a shoo-in.

I think you're wrong about El Duque. He didn't receive $12 million to be a reliever. I see him there eventually, though.

I would think Maine is more a given than Perez, although I like both and think both will start the season in the rotation.

I know I make some colorfull suggestions ( & Thank you for allowing it), but I praised the Maine trade and cast him as a dark horse for the #5 slot in the rotation last yr, without seeing him. I also praised the Ollie acquisition immediately, then defended him staunchly. I think both are now battle tested and can elevate.

El Duque: I think this is a contract in which Omar; a how to outbid someone (b) Did not want to fill 3 holes, so simply overpaid. He could always move him later.

Ed - You'd disappoint me if you didn't disagree. If I seem pissed off at you some times, it's because I am, but only in a fun way.

I do remember that you liked Maine and wanted to try to trade for Perez before they did. I do like both, and Perez definitely has more upside if he can put it all together, and I think he can. When I mention Perez for the bullpen, I do it because this is an article about ALL of the bullpen possibilities.

I'll bet you anything El Duque is a starter, at least at the beginning of the season.

For what it's worth, my best guess on the rotation and bullpen

Zito, Glavine, El Duque, Perez, Maine

Wagner, Heilman, Sanchez, Feliciano, Burgos, Williams with Adkins or Padilla in the last slot

When El Duque inevitably wears down, I think Humber will get the first shot at the rotation. Mota joins the bullpen in June.

I see my job (as in my career) as presenting the view least viewed.

I agree with your rotation. But the bullpen(?), I like Humber to start in the pen if Norfolk is staffed. I still see Heilman traded by opening day IF a match is found and Sanchez is ready, Humber, Burgos, Standridge look good...why? so Heilman can start elsewhere.

Adkins has a bad/mediocre rap. Apparently he is very ordinary...very Schmoll like. But I have seen Standridge and he apparently has a good arm (cmpare to ex-seton hall guy ....Hansen) He and Burgos could be the finds of the offseason. I agree El Duque is the bridge to Petey....maybe, remember I call him the 6th starter (who pitches 3rd). Vargas, Pinango, and Pelfrey are my top 3 at Norfolk. Collazzo, Devaney and Bostwick follow.

I think they have enough bullpen guys to at least start Humber in AAA. Coming off the surgery, it would be wise to let him build up further, though I would be surprised if he didn't pitch in NY at some point.

You've been trading Heilman since last spring, and he's still here. For what it's worth, I've heard that Sanchez is iffy for the start of the season, so who you going to give the ninth inning to? Heilman would be easy to trade in-season, as his contract is low and there will always be a demand.

Adkins will have the advantage because he has already spent a full year in middle relief. Standridge has given up insane amounts of walks. They will have a major project with him.

Great analysis as usual. I think that Soler will be put into the pen because we don't have enough lefthanded arms. I think Standridge and Padilla will also make it, but Vargas, Schmoll, and Smith are gonna remain in AAA to start the season. Unless Humber really impresses in ST, he'll likely be there also, and Pelfrey needs secondary pitches, so it'd be pretty misinformed to start him off in the majors.

That being said, I think Williams deserves the starting job, and El Duque should be long reliever a la Darren Oliver. We need to rest him up for the postseason, and he's getting quite old. Williams impressed me with what he showed last year. The rotation would be really young if you went (provided we sign him) Zito-Glavine-Maine-Perez-Williams, but all those guys are major league ready and really proved themselves at the end of last season. Besides, it's not like you're gonna need a ridiculous rotation 1-5 when you have that lineup, which is gonna be considerably better than it was even last year.

Finally, watch out for this Burgos kid-- throws 99-100 MPH heat and is only 22. He should come up in like July or August and start tearing it up. KC made the mistake of rushing him to MLB, but he'll be fine if we just give him a little time to develop.

Matt - Soler is a righty. I won't argue with your assessment of Dave Williams over Orlando Hernandez, but I don't think they're paying El Duque almost $6 million per year to relieve. I do think Williams would be effective in that Darren Oliver role, and I like having the lefty there. I've read good things about Burgos, too. I think he'll benefit from a chance to develop.

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