By its very nature, a major league bullpen is made up of a motley crew of assorted parts. The veteran, who's trying to hang on with what he's still got left. The young kid, who's too wild and not mature enough for a start yet, but who could be useful for a well-placed inning or two. The specialist, whose sole job is to retire no more than one or two batters. The heir apparent to the closer, who cuts his teeth on eighth inning work before becoming the door-slammer. There's no need to sugar-coat one elemental truth - the vast majority of middle relief pitchers are there because they're not good enough to be a closer, and not durable enough (or lacking enough pitch variety) to be a starter.
Picking through the crime scene that was the Mets' 2008 season, it's easy to pin the blame for the team's death on the bullpen. No doubt, the near league-leading number of blown saves and below-average ERA of this collective bunch makes them an easy scapegoat. One Mets fan on another website was trying to get a list of this year's blown saves and the culprits behind them, to get a t-shirt printed. However, you'd have to be Manute Bol to wear a shirt like that. Hold on with your vengeful cries, though; put down the pitchforks and torches for a moment.
A bullpen is a hammock. It gets a team from their starter to their closer, ideally as painlessly and cleanly as possible. The less it sags, the better the team's chances. Both pegs on that hammock were pulled out from under the Mets' bullpen this year. Don't forget, Orlando Hernandez was penciled into the starting rotation in spring training. Between the washout of El Duque's season, Pedro's fits and starts, and Maine's injury late in the year, the bullpen was asked to both pitch in with spot starts for a good part of the year, and come in earlier than usual when those starts went bad. Once Billy Wagner went down, the pen got stretched at both ends, and finally gave out in September. Francisco Rodriguez is the obvious target this winter. While other serviceable options will be out there, my gut tells me that if the Mets are unable to land him, they won't get as far in '09 as they got in '08.
The knee-jerk reaction to a finish like we all suffered through is to just get rid of everyone. In fact, if the Mets wanted to, they could pretty much do that. Only the shelved Wagner, Scott Schoeneweis, and Brian Stokes are under contract for 2009. The remaining members of the Mets' pen are currently unsigned. But cleaning house won't be necessary, if this conga line of schlubs isn't asked to do what they're not capable of doing.
Joe Smith was good far more often that he wasn't. He pitched in 82 games though, and was called on far too many times. Luis Ayala started surprisingly well and tailed off as September ground on. Duaner Sanchez had only one bad outing in September. Pedro Feliciano was solid if unspectacular for most of the year. Aaron Heilman gave up only one earned run the entire month of June, and only two the whole month of September. Even Schoeneweis ended with a 3.34 ERA, not the best stat to reveal a reliever's worth, but not awful by any means. Schoeney's first win as a Met came in one of the games I saw during my pilgrimage to Shea in July. Unfortunately, thought, his last loss of the season was the last game of the year. I guess that makes him this year's Gl@v!ne.
I'm no apologist for the Mets' bullpen, but unless the kids we caught a glimpse of in September are ready to step in, we need to take a scalpel to this portion of the roster, not a hatchet. The biggest problem is, who would want Heilman in a package, and what would dealing him bring in return? Not much, I fear. The best cure for an ailing middle relief corps is five starters who can each pitch six or seven innings, and a closer who's a real closer.